Believe it or not, a few Treble staffers have lived in Italy at one time or another. Contributor Wilson Drozdowski spent a small part of his teenage years there and photo editor Candice Eley moved to the Mediterranean country not long after she was born. But in spite of this interesting fact, we seem to be, for the most part, unaware of musical goings on in the Italian scene. I mean, sure, there was Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Moroder and Nino Rota, and they all contributed to shaping the way we listen to music today. And then there was the one guy in The Police that Andy Summers replaced and the Pace brothers in Blonde Redhead. But beyond that, we come up a little empty. Can you blame us, though? It’s really damn far away. It’s not like we can just drive over to a little club in Rome. Any Italians reading this shouldn’t be offended, however. After all, a lot of people still aren’t aware that there are any good bands in San Diego.
But when you think about it, it’s funny how there really aren’t too many breakthrough Italian acts to come to the U.S. I foresee a change in the future of Italian imports, however, thanks to the tripped-out, bizarre talents of Jennifer Gentle. Just to clarify, there is no person named Jennifer Gentle, it’s actually two gents named Marco Fasolo and Alessio Gastaldello, guitar/vocals and drums, respectively. And boy, are they weird. Like Devendra Banhart or Animal Collective, the duo mix and match folk music with unadulterated wackiness. They’re an artsy sort, and it’s the wild, oddball spirit of their music that will put their hometown of Padova, Italy on the indie map.
Valende, the band’s third proper full-length and first for Sub Pop, is a psychedelic wonderland of delicate acoustic textures, swirling carnival pastiches and fun, zany songwriting. “Universal Daughter” and “I Do Dream You” are relatively normal garage pop songs in comparison to the rest of the album, yet made extremely unconventional by use of heavy amounts of reverb and Fasolo’s helium-affected pixie yelp. But the rest of the album continues on a roller-coaster of blessed-out psych-folk, fucked-up noise and overall oddities in general.
The album has its prettier moments, such as the gorgeous “Circles of Sorrow” and the simpler “The Garden Pt. 1.” But the gracious melodies and warm tones melt into the flaming wreck of “Hessesopoa,” a seven-minute noise freakout that would most likely frighten your neighbors (..which could be a good thing). “The Garden Pt. 2” continues the lovely strum patterns of the first part, along with trippy, reverberated vocals. “Liquid Coffee” (great title!) marries a fairly straightforward melody with chattering castanets and a ticking clock in place of drums. It could be the best song on the album, but “Circles of Sorrow” is beautiful enough to hold its own, as well. But nothing encompasses the mood of the album as well as closer “Nothing Makes Sense,” with its dizzying Mad Hatter shouts over a bouncy garage rock melody. It’s Jennifer Gentle’s unbirthday, and Syd Barrett came by for tea.
I don’t claim to know anything about Italian indie rock, but if there’s more like Jennifer Gentle, then count me in. Yet, I get the feeling that they’re probably considered as weird at home as they most likely will be here. In any case, they have talent and imagination, two things that are accessible in any country.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.