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Arpia - Racconto d'inverno CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.24 | 11 ratings

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4 stars Understated, elegant, wonderful!

In 2009 this band from Rome known as Arpia celebrated their 25th anniversary with the release of the splendid "Racconto D'inverno." The three core members have been together all that time: Leonardo Bonetti (vocals, bass, keys, and brilliant composer), Fabio Brait (guitar), and Aldo Maria Orazi (drums). While I have not heard their earlier recorded works, it is written that the band have moved through different stylistic phases of progressive rock, including symphonic, heavy prog, metallish, gothic, and certainly some classic RPI influences exist. Past work has been noted to be of a heavier and darker element. In the earlier days the music and performance were linked to theatrical presentation as well, sometimes employing actors or mime (which reminds me of the vocalist from Officina Meccanica in the '70s). Over the years music definitely became the emphasis as their discography of cassette and CD releases grew. A few years ago the band was assisted by percussionist Tonino De Sisinno and vocalist Paola Feraiorni. Around 2006 Paola would become the fourth permanent member of Arpia and the band were ready for the new work "Racconto D'inverno." It is quite difficult to find comparisons that sound like this album and doing so is always my least favorite part of the reviewing process, but I'm usually game to give it a try: Think of "unplugged" Italian prog mixed with elements of Dead Can Dance; think of Joni Mitchell's great instrumental intuitions of later years; perhaps bits of Mazzy Star, Roxy Music, Delirium, Cat Power, and Kristen Hersh. Confused? You should be, for Racconto sounds like Arpia 2009 and no one else on!

Even hearing just a few samples of older work from their website, it is obvious that Racconto is a sound shift for the band. Described as a marriage of music and literature, it was a dual release of the novel by Bonetti and this conceptual album by the band. (The book is also available through their website.) For a band with a history of rough and heavy music, this new album is an amazing change-up. It comes across to me as a highly sophisticated yet toned-down progressive sound, emotionally evocative, and darkly romantic....a musically conceptual, cohesive work. I dare to say it comes closer to mature progressive-pop than "prog-rock" but it certainly is NOT saccharine, mainstream pop music. Rather it is a sound all its own, very tightly controlled, perfectly-produced, and yet passion-filled. Very beautiful. There is no electric guitar and the keyboards play only a background role in most cases, providing the atmosphere, the mood. The main element throughout is an acoustic guitar played in a unique way, tightly and often briskly strummed, most of the time not allowing the chords to ring out. It is an intensely focused acoustic guitar rather than any kind of laid-back or folksy acoustic you might expect when talking "acoustic music." While completely different in finished product obviously, the guitar style itself reminds me of Syd Barrett's playing on some of his solo stuff. I think of tracks like "Opel" where the acoustic is played so personally, so guarded, the strokes so consistent it sounds like he plays them to keep a boat afloat. Here, as there, it gives the songs a truly distinct sound, which is aided by a similarly masterful drum playing. Very crisp and defined, perfect without being flashy. Subtle rhythmic shifts combined with the understated play give the tracks a light and airy feel in one way, which makes for fascinating contrast with the moodiness of the songs themselves. Then there moments which break away to a refined yet imaginative interplay of guitar, bass, and drums....not really jamming as much as complimenting the others....these moments are just savvy and delicious examples of musicians taking their craft to a completely different place.

And then there are the outstanding vocals which are the emotional ebb and flow, alternating male and female by Leonardo and Paola. They are nothing short of breathtaking. Modest but passionate, sometimes pleading, aching....other times more narrative in feel. Paola's vocals on "Casa non mai vista" will take you straight to heaven. They are all perfectly balanced and integrated into the nimble instrumentation, never overbearing or contrived. The combination of these various forces, and without even understanding the lyrics as an English-fluent-only boy, I find the album one of the year's loveliest releases. (And it was a great choice for them to use Italian language rather than attempt the English conversion---keep singing in Italian!) Further, they did not make the modern era mistake of forcing every album to be 70 minutes long. At 43 minutes the album is the perfect length and will keep you spellbound throughout. With my highest compliments to the band members, "Racconto D'inverno" will make my yearly list of best Italian albums, and perhaps flirt with my overall best of 2009 list at ProgArchives. The folks at Musea were wise to latch onto this band. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of Italian progressive and sophisticated pop-rock music. 4 stars. (Might eventually round it up rather than down, will have to see how it holds up over more time.)

Finnforest | 4/5 |


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