Written by: Dave Cantrell
Some artists you innately believe in the instant you first hear them (or read their work, watch them dance, see them act, whatever art form). It isn’t simply a matter of what they do being arresting or them producing a thing you’ve never quite experienced before – though certainly the ‘shock of the new’ has its advantages – as there being an aspect to the work that makes such fresh use of familiar elements it knocks you a bit off center in a delirious way, even – or especially – when they do so a bit unassumingly. The result can be unsettling, an assault on your senses sneaking over you and your heart like a narcotic haze blowing in anew from the past. Think Young Marble Giants, Broadcast, think Nico and Leonard Cohen and the way they could all, at will, wield a prevailing quietude like a secret weapon, each of them as mesmerizing as they were electrifying. And now – after adding in some dashes of brash, gazey, technicolor accents – think Gae Vinci.
Born in Sicily now living in Milan, the producer-musician Gaetano Vinci has apparently uncovered some heretofore concealed font of beauty and mystery tucked away deep in the Lombardy countryside, an underground spring now allowed to flow forth, bounteous in a way that allows its power to unlock itself. From that distillate one can’t help but taste fragility as strength and understand it has been forever thus. Often gauzy while simultaneously fixed on a point sharp enough to draw a trickle of blood, it’s a sound that, in its structure, in its (superb) production, thrives in its own built-in permanence, arriving minus any unneeded fanfare, confident in the knowledge it needs none, knowing that once it’s invited in it’ll be staying until the final curtain. It’s a deep, quietly knowing confidence that makes itself clear straightaway on the 8-minute title track with which the album begins.
Emerging as if from a shroud’s first breath with the lone sound of a harmonized, reverbed bass and piano joined as if in mourning, each seeming to hide behind the other, the intro immediately serves as an example of how minimalism can envelop the senses and draw you to the edge of your seat. It is, in other words, the kind of atmospheric redoubt where intrigue lives, and melancholy, and still more intrigue. Even as the vocal enters the room (Cosette Gabot, with an unbending grace, takes the mike on eight of the album’s ten tracks, Mr Vinci on the other two), its first, quite fitting line “Light is going to the horizon,” it’s not giving much away, the sung equivalent of holding cards close to the chest. As the song, at my first listen, proceeded in its unhurried syncopation, a restless inertia surging ever forward, layering on additional elements and effects, it had me writing “shoegaze with a touch or two of wrecked elegance” in the margins. Heard another way, one could reasonably think this is Low pulled through some latent chrysalis stage before materializing as a whole new animal, one standing in its own field, half in half out of the shadows. From either perspective or any other, it’s instructive, as this album’s bare truth lies in Lonely Ballads‘ sustained beauty no matter where the needle lands in the tracklist, but as that running order was clearly arranged with care we’ll move through the rest of this astonishing record in rough sequential order.
The moody and swaying “Who Are You Now?” lures that just-summoned shoegaze revenant further into service though in this case psychedelicizing it in a way that would guarantee it a slot on the Nuggets comp were it released in 2023, its killer pop hook and melody – there’s a lingering Hazlewood feel to it – helping ensure just that era-warping impression. Add in its damning pitch black lyric (“only darkness will be your light/and loneliness your only friend” is the track’s final couplet) and we’re tempted to call the song an album highlight but we can’t in good conscience slight the rest of the tracks lying in wait.
“My Favorite Color” continues its predecessor’s spell by hauling up some ancient, enchanted, nearly lost AM radio wave from the 60s, extruding it through a restored Reid brothers filter before, with apparent nonchalance, ending up with another current-day gem of some significance though, to be honest, even that may be outdone by what comes next. Called “Camelie,” let us just say this: heard on headphones of sufficient quality, if heroin were a song and therefore euphorically harmless it would surely sound – and have an effect – like this. There’s no need to expound beyond that, it’s really damn near perfect. But, well, then there’s “Summer is Too Long.”
Sung by Gae, its colors lushly exploding off the canvas, your heart will, by its own initiative, relive its finest MBV moments and simply marvel at how they could be so casually absorbed into the bloodstream by virtue of equal parts bluster and nuance. This song, its melody impervious to age (and thereby, perhaps, echoing the hint of immortality inherent in the season), is a new fucking awakening if there ever was one and certainly, at the very least, here at the office, the new official song of this – despite its title – too brief interlude of warmth and cloudless skies.
Whereas on many an album that track would be a hard act to follow, it’s only really the centerpiece due to its placement mid-album. For Gae Vinci, on this remarkable debut, there’s really no let-up to the beauty, there’s a caliber maintained. Consider: “All The Times” hovers above the Velvets in their mystic droning phase, no surprise considering that, one, all those thus far cited as touchstones in this piece found their own birth impetus inside the white light of the Reed/Cale citadel and, two, like creative minds are likely to create alike. Twisted syllogism though that may be it doesn’t matter as the band quietly obliterates the comparisons anyway, dredging the gauze through feedback and wonder until the sound is there’s alone.
Apropos of all thus written, with “My Ashes” we end on a brittle poignancy brushed with optimism. An elegy, a haunt, it rides along on a rhythm that, in decided contrast to either of those words, is martial in its steadiness, the song a movement toward finality, toward endedness, that carries with it a suggestion of rebirth not least in the way it seems, in tone and relative hush, to lead one back to that title track opening the record, thereby creating a perpetual cycle inherent. Though somber of mien, that cut, like the full-length it concludes, occasions a joyousness in its craft and execution that, from an art-consuming perspective, is simply intoxicating.
Day in day out, many efforts are made to marry, in sonic terms, the more blissful ‘then’ to the more jaded and troubled ‘now’ but we haven’t heard many that have succeeded to this outwardly modest but intrinsically stunning degree (the record’s not been off the turntable here at SEM since arriving from Milan a couple weeks ago). Somewhere up there in this review and in fact multiple times the concept of beauty has arisen as it organically would during a listen like this. For a relatively small record, sans label and self-produced and a damned debut of all things, Lonely Ballads is nothing less than essential, and, with the health of our readers’ souls always in mind, we can but urge you to lay it down for which ever format you choose then lose yourself in the complicated yet life-affirming bliss this record offers.[here it is, right here]