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(106:24 2CD, Lizard Records)
Prolusion. The Italian ensemble NICHELODEON was formed back in 1997, with vocalist and composer Claudio Milano as the band leader. Their debut album appeared in 2008, and since then Nichelodeon has released a further three albums, both live and studio productions. "Bath Salts" is their most recent release, and this double CD studio production was issued through the Italian label Lizard Records in the summer of 2013.
Disc-1 Capitolo I: D'Amore e di Vuoto (54:52)
TRACKLIST: 1. Prologo 3:13 2. Un Posto sicuro 8:53 3. Ricordo d'Infanzia 6:23 4. Surabaya Johnny 5:24 5. Bolle 2:11 6. Rapporto Sulla Fine di Una Storia 4:52 7. This Side of the Looking Glass 6:24 8. Desiderio Nascosto 3:48 9. Musica Per la Carne 6:30 10. Giulia 7:12 LINEUP: Claudio Milano vocals; piano; flute Vincenzo Zitello cello, viola, violin, harp; crumhorn Pierangelo Pandiscia glockenspiel, drums, percussion; flute Raoul Moretti harps; archetto, slides With: Lorenzo Sempio guitars, synth guitars, bass Francesci Chiapperini saxophone, flute Walter Calloni drums, percussion Paolo Tofani santoor, electronics Andrea Murada tendega, kalimba Alessandro Parilli stick; percussion Fabrizio Carriero percussion; vocals Stefano Delle Monache electronics Elio Martusciello electronics Max Pierini bass Simone Beretta vocals Simone Pirovano vocals
Analysis. While Nichelodeon is officially stated to be a band consisting of four members, "Bath Salts" does come across as much more of a solo production than any previous albums by this band. Quite a few of the compositions have been recorded without all four members present, and the majority of them also features additional performers lending their talents to the proceedings. The artistic red thread throughout is Claudio Milano and his voice. On many levels this double album is similar to another one released at the same time, InSonar's "L'Enfant et le Monure". Both of them have Milano in a central role, featuring a score of additional contributors, and are released through the same label, both of them double albums, and they are even sold together as a box set. One of the main details separating them is the presence of Marco Tuppo, who only appears on the InSonar production. Another marked difference is that Nichelodeon's double album to a greater degree focuses on sparse compositions featuring non-electronic instruments. There are the occasional compositions featuring drones and electronics here too, pairing off the organic vocals with the clinical electronics, but not as many and not quite as successful either, to my ears. "Bath Salts", or at least the first part of it, is most intriguing when the compositions are fairly barren, when Milano's vocals is the dominant feature carrying the composition from start to finish through alternating degrees of intensity, variation in timbre, use of vocal effects and just about any other feature you might want to add in, as far as vocal performances go. Extensive use of harp, with supplemental contributions from viola, violin and cello, adds a certain romantic atmosphere to these creations, at times also what I might describe as a chamber music influenced approach, where the vocals have the role of an instrument in its own right and that the lyrics are, arguably, more of an incidental feature. Not that they are uninteresting or penned down as an afterthought, but more a case of the vocals used and utilized more like an instrument that can be listened to without the words being of importance to enjoy the music. Desiderio Nascosto is perhaps the most purebred of the compositions as far as that approach goes, while one of the more intriguing cases of compositions shying away from that approach by pairing singing and spoken voice and later vocals with tribal-oriented percussion details can be enjoyed on Musica Per la Carne. The cover version of Peter Hammill's This Side of the Looking Glass is another track fairly different, but while initially intriguing this one becomes too uniform and stale before it concludes, the contrast between vocals and electronics not tantalizing enough in its own right. It does represent a neat variation in style however, and as such serves its purpose in a whole album context. The clear highlight, as far as I'm concerned, is Milano's take on Surabaya Johnny, however. A Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht original, on this occasion in a very sparse arrangement where Milano's vocals add an amazing amount of nerve, tension and emotion, with a single harp supporting his voice. As sparse as they come in terms of arrangements, and a haunting documentation of how effective the less is more approach can be also in the world of music, as long as the performers are of a high quality.
Disc-2 Capitolo II: Di Guerre e Rinascite (51:34)
TRACKLIST: 1. Terra 4:48 2. Alla Statua dei Martiri di Gorla 9:23 3. Fuoco Amico 2:20 4. Trittico 50 mg 7:05 5. Johnny dei Pirati 5:01 6. Secca in Festa 2:58 7. L'Urlo Ritrovato 12:45 8. Un Posto Sicuro-2 2:32 9. Ninna Nanna 3:03 10. Portami un Fiore 1:39 LINEUP: Claudio Milano vocals; piano; flute Raoul Moretti harps; archetto, slides Vincenzo Zitello cello, viola, violin, harp; crumhorn Pierangelo Pandiscia glockenspiel, drums, percussion; flute With: Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo guitars; viola Michel Delville guitars, soundscapes Walter Calloni drums, percussion Anna Caniglia vocals Laura Catrani vocals Giorgio Tiboni vocals Alessandro Parilli bass Paolo Tofani electronics Marco Confalonieri piano Andrea Quattrini drums, bins Sebastiano De Gennaro xylophone Francesco Chiapperini clarinet Valerio Cosi saxophone Valri Cosi saxophone Luca Pissavini cello
Analysis. The second disc of Nichelodeon's double feature "Bath Salts" continues exploring similar landscapes as was explored on the first disc, and as such one can conclude straight away that this is a fairly uniform production. It stays within a particular context all the way through. If that is a good thing in itself depends first and foremost on the quality of the material, and in this case I'd say that the quality is on a high level throughout. The lead vocals of Claudio Milano remain in the driving seat, where he gets to showcase his skills as a multiple-range vocalist with a firm voice control, always perfectly in pitch and utilizing his capabilities and talents to alternate timbre, intensity and dramaturgy to maintain a strong tension and craft. Careful use of vocal effects and occasional layered vocals further elevates the listener experience. The compositions are, by and large, fairly sparsely arranged constructions. Chamber music was a frequent association when listening through this disc, and while many of the compositions actually feature more musicians performing than in chamber music as such, the majority of the material comes across as fairly intimate music performed by a few artists only, with harp and cello the main instruments besides the vocals. The vocals in this context are an instrument in their own right, and not merely a tool to convey the lyrics, just to make that perfectly and crystal clear. Some of the compositions do stretch a bit beyond the sparse, intimate chamber music context in part or in whole, when looking at the list of contributors that fact is a given. The sparse arrangements do dominate, but on a piece like Trittico 50 mg further details are added, giving this one a darker, ominous and increasingly nightmare-like atmosphere. Later on epic length L'Urlo Ritrovato concludes on more of a vibrant, free-form jazz-inspired note. The main exception to the description given above is opening track Terra however, a brilliantly conceived and executed creation using a richly layered, dampened arrangement where bass, drums and percussion are the main supplemental features for the vocals, concluding with an almost hymn-like multiple vocals and harp sequence of the goosebumps-inducing kind. Five minutes of pure musical delight that is a clear album highlight.
Conclusion. Nichelodeon's double album "Bath Salts" is an impressive constellation of compositions celebrating the role of the lead vocals and the possibilities you have in using them as a standalone dominating element or in constellations with one or more supporting voices to create stunning music even with minimalistic instrument support only. The use of vocal effects, the manner in which vocals and instruments are utilized, and the structure and overall arrangements of the compositions most often do take them to a place well outside common or mainstream music, I might add, if there is such a thing as minimalistic avant-garde I'd place this album within such a context. Especially if there is a subcategory there for material that references classical and, on occasion, medieval folk music. First and foremost this production is a sheer vocal delight however, and if you enjoy stellar lead vocals, avant-garde rock and chamber music you should find this double album to be a true delight.
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