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Raven Sad - 2009 - "We Are Not Alone"

(62.38, Lizard Records)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Infinite Lactean Seashore 4.26
2.  More Life Forms 4.09
3.  Are We Alone 1.09
4.  Fluttering Flags 5.38
5.  Meteor 6.15
6.  To Write Me a Song 3.18
7.  An Awful Waste of Space-I 4.02
8.  Not Ready to Know 13.55
9.  For Lo 3.32
10. An Awful Waste of Space-II 3.27
11. We Are Not Alone 14.07


Samuele Santanna – vocals; ac., el. & bass guitars; drum programming
Fabrizio Trinci – synthesizers, piano, organ (4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Marco Chiappini – keyboards, Mellotron (1, 6)
Gilberto Giusto – saxophone (5, 8)

Prolusion. RAVEN SAD is the name of a project by Italian multi-instrumentalist Samuele Santanna, based in the central Italian city of Prato. “We Are Not Alone” is his second album, following his 2008 debut, “Quoth” (whose title recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”), and recorded with the collaboration of a number of guest musicians.

Analysis. Even though people from other countries may not be aware of it, the current Italian progressive rock scene offers far more than faithful disciples of the great bands of the Seventies, or Dream Theater-inspired prog metal acts. Samuele Santanna (aka Raven Sad) is one of the select standard-bearers of Italian psychedelic space-rock – a one-man project whose output is firmly rooted in the classic tradition of the subgenre, honed to perfection by Pink Floyd in their early Seventies output, and then brought into the new century by Porcupine Tree. Unlike, for instance, another recent, similarly tagged album, Giorgio C. Neri’s “Logos”, the influence of the Italian musical tradition is hardly to be perceived on “We Are Not Alone”. As the title suggests, the album takes its cue from the premises that humans are not the only life forms in the universe – a very fitting topic for a subgenre called ‘space rock’. The lyrical and musical content is further supported by a quotation from Carl Sagan, appearing at the back of the stylish CD booklet (which also features two striking photographs): “If there was only us, it would be an awful waste of space”. The concept behind the album, however, is evoked through the music rather than the lyrics, the vocal parts being somewhat inconsequential. Although Santanna wrote all of the tracks on the album, as well as playing most of the instruments, this is not your run-of-the-mill one-man project, since on most tracks he is assisted by at least another musician whose contribution is of paramount importance. In any case, a conventional band format is not really mandatory in order to play this particular kind of music, relying as it does on samples, loops and electronic instruments to create ambient soundscapes and hypnotic textures. Slightly over an hour long, “We Are Not Alone” features two ‘epic-length’ compositions and a number of shorter tracks. While not exactly overlong, especially if compared with so many modern albums, one cannot help feeling that a couple of tracks – namely the ones mainly featuring sound effects and recorded voices – could have been omitted without too much detriment to the overall result. On the other hand, such additions can be seen as essential to the album’s fabric, even if some listeners may consider them as little more than padding. One could point at the 14-minute title-track as one of the main culprits, since about half of it consists of electronic effects, occasionally so faint as to almost pass for pauses of silence. The electronics are very tastefully used anyway, even if the music can occasionally border on the soporific. The first of the two epics, Not Ready to Know, is undoubtedly one of the album’s strongest points, and never overstays its welcome in spite of its length. After a sparse, somewhat stark intro, it develops into a slow-paced tune, punctuated by spacey keyboard effects and gently tolling bells, most of it revolving around a lengthy sax-guitar interplay. The overall piece may be perceived as a bit monotonous, yet oddly mesmerizing, and quite soothing to the ear. Unlike in the rest of the album, the brief, spoken vocal parts are in Italian, adding a note of warmth to the hypnotic texture of the piece. In a similar vein, Meteor (another standout) also features Gilberto Giusto’s muted, faintly plaintive sax, weaving a melodic line that contrasts yet complements the one played by the keyboards. Here as well the apparent lack of variation seems to add to the song’s charm, rather than being detrimental to it. Fluttering Flags boasts some very Gilmour-like guitar parts (reminiscent of Pink Floyd circa “Meddle”), and gradually mounting, robotic synths in the vein of Tangerine Dream, with a somewhat free-form ending. On the other hand, the shorter tracks, whether featuring vocals or not, tend to be sound rather alike, and the samples of recorded voices often come across as conducting a sort of dialogue with each other. From the above description, it should be clear that anyone looking for lively, energetic music should probably give this album a miss. “We Are Not Alone” is mood music, relying on evocative atmospheres rather than sustained adrenaline rushes – with excellent production values that help the listener to perceive the subtle shifts and contrasts around which the album is built. In any case, this is the kind of music that needs careful listening to be fully appreciated, otherwise it can easily become little more than sonic wallpaper.

Conclusion. While somewhat on the derivative side, “We Are Not Alone” is a classy effort, offering some worthwhile musical moments. However, those who are not staunch followers of this particular subset of progressive rock may be put off by the excessive amount of ‘noise’ (though never abrasive or unpleasant), or even find some parts a tad monotonous. Fans of Pink Floyd and early Porcupine Tree are, on the other hand, quite likely to find the album very much to their taste.

RB=Raffaella Berry: February 28, 2010
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Lizard Records
Raven Sad


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