Der Noir - A Dead Summer
Unlike post-punk predecessors, Diaframma, Der Noir have wisely decided to sing most of their material in English, although two of the tracks are in a deep Italian tenor which defies any expectations you may have had as to what that language sounded like. Vocalist Manuele Frau has just the right voice for the music, cold and distant with a hint of menace. And yet if this review so far reads like the band comprises a bunch of miserable Italian so-and-so's dressed entirely in black and singing about slitting their wrists, then you would be gravely mistaken.
OK, they do dress largely in back, but what is remarkable about A Dead Summer is that, unlike so much Goth and darkwave, Der Noir have managed to produce some damn good tunes. It is almost as if this was the flag-carrier for a new kind of pop-noir for the new millennium. The opener, "Private Ceremony", is one of the best of its kind to have emerged anywhere in a long time, while "Stranger's Eye" starts off with a distinctly Cure-like bassline before progressing into a darker version of eighties danceable synth pop. "Cosa Vedo" has a superb bassline, overlaid with soothing synthesisers and some great shimmering guitars.
The rhythms are sustained by some impressive bass playing from Manuel Mazzenga and some less than impressive drum machines, the latter being tinny and articficial sounding, like some bad pastiche of a German europop outfit like Deutsche-Amerikanische Freundschaft. And yet, even though the sound of these infernal machines is weak, it grows on you until in the end you accept it as an essential component of a musical style which, were there a real drummer of a deeper sound, would not be quite so effective. It is almost as if the band made a deliberate decision to utilise the machines in this way as if to emphasise the fragility of the music as part of a bleak and sometimes depressing musical soundscape.
Most of the time the music is provided by machines, such as on "Oblivion" where only Mazzenga's bass is there to remind you that there are human musicians on this. The synthesisers provide an atmosphere which is strongly reminiscent of Dead Can Dance at their best and never comes across as cold as some of the other synthesiser laden music which has come out so far this decade. The result is sensual, at times almost erotic in its detachment. This is music to accompany the nocturnal wanderings of an incubus (or succubus, depending on your gender). Not just Goth but almost Gothic in a nineteenth century pre-Raphaelite sense, an impression which is sometimes enhanced by the cool and eerie vocal accompaniment from a female voice belonging to someone identified only as Valentina.
A cursory listen would give you the impression that this Italian trio were jumping on someone else's bandwagon. Again, you would be wrong. A Dead Summer has a quality of its own. There is too much here in terms of depth of sound to call it pure darkwave and, at times, it has a positive sensation to it to render it outside the miserable self-loathing of some of the darker Goths. An unexpected treat.
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