published: 18 /
Second album from Italian band Modern Stars which at its best is intriguing mixture of Western drone rock with Indian sitar, dull at its worst.
Modern Stars are an Italian band who are indicative of a fertile rock music scene, one in which even the country’s Eurovision winners are a rock group. The Stars themselves pursue the drone path, with Andrea Merolle’s unusual employment of sitar almost as much as guitar often giving their sound a late Sixties tinge, recalling the Velvet Underground of such as ‘Venus in Furs’.
Merolle’s vocals are often mixed at such a level as to blur into the overall sound. It’s the layers of his fuzz guitar, entwined with the wail of lyric soprano Barbara Margani, which add some emotional expressiveness to tracks like ‘Hypnopaedia’ and ‘Artificial Wombs’. If these titles suggest Aldous Huxley’s dystopian ‘Brave New World’ this is evidently quite intentional, just as elsewhere ‘Ignorance is Strength’ and ‘War is Peace’ are nods to ‘1984’. As most of the lyrics are unintelligible, not least because of the thicket of guitars they are largely sunk within, the album’s conceptual pretensions end up seeming to have about as much connection to these novels as did David Bowie’s sinking of his teeth into George Orwell for some of the meat which fed into ‘Diamond Dogs’.
Although the opening tracks are somewhat turgid, ‘Throw Your Dreams Away’ is a leaner and more concise affair, in which the vocals are less obstructed for once and gently rocking drums add a degree of energy. ‘Ignorance is Strength’, as with closer ‘Deep Feelings’, offers a still more vulnerable and touching sound in contrast to the drone-dominated pieces; Margani’s voice floats over organ in a way that is wordless yet heartfelt.
What for some will be the album’s epic pinnacle for me manages to be both zenith and nadir. On ‘Indian Donna Summer’ Merolle’s vocals (unleavened by Margani’s) are pretty much as close as anyone might care to get to imitating an instrumental drone, or Leonard Cohen with a hangover. Verse after verse ends with a bizarre allusion to the phrase ‘I Feel Love’, on a track devoid of the energy and ecstasy that powers Summer and Moroder’s masterpiece. Yet the intermittent sparks of sitar and guitar, and the eventual emergence of some really strong guitar work, perhaps suggest the struggle to restore human feeling to a totalitarian world. In finding these glimpses of relief from listening to what during its thirteem minutes is so often a dirge, I hope to have expiated some very bad karma.
‘War is Peace’ follows, far briefer, yet the heavily reverbed military snare that gradually overwhelms all melody and Margani’s voice, makes its point far more effectively.
Electronic bleeps lead into the chiming mandolin and guitar of ‘Deep Feelings’. A strong contrast to the sometimes oppressive repetition of other tracks, there is a simple appeal to the music, even if to some extent it’s let down by wavering vocals. Merolle’s guitar breaks well reflect the title.
Most obviously influenced by Spaceman 3, and to a lesser degree by Jason Pierce’s further explorations in Spiritualized, ‘Psychindustrial’ is an ambitious album. If a lyric sheet had come with it, that might have better shown how well that ambition had been realised. As it is, with the lead vocals often hard to make out, it’s the atmosphere of the tracks that must be relied upon. The bold reliance on sitar alongside guitar certainly makes an interesting connection between the ancient tradition of ragas and the electrically sustained fuzz of drone rock, though it gets wearing at times. That there are highly condensed pieces alongside the extended work-outs not only proves the versatility of Modern Stars, but also suggests a possible future where they can blend the virtues of both approaches.
Throw Your Dreams Away
Ignorance Is Strength
Indian Donna Summer
War Is Peace
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