Saturday, 3 September 2016

Vinyl (Window) Shopping in Italy

You go to Italy for the culture, the food and wine, the architecture, the sunshine, the dramatic hand gestures, the excellent standard of driving, not to buy records. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, record shops are very thin on the ground, and secondly, vinyl (when you can find it) is expensive. Holy shit, is it expensive!

This summer, the Shelf-Stacker clan hit Puglia, deep in Italy's heel. I was resigned to a two week vinyl detox - not a great hardship considering everything else this beautiful country has to offer - but I nevertheless managed to stumble upon two record shops. One (Detroit Rock City in Gallipoli) was closed, the other (Discoshop Detommaso in Monopoli) might as well have been. Not that it isn't a great little shop, but the UK's weak pound, courtesy of the Brexit vote, hasn't exactly taken the edge off the crazy vinyl prices in Italy. Discoshop's owner handed me a delicious stack of under-the-counter vinyl porn including titles by Le Orme, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Franco Battiato, Claudio Rocchi, New Trolls and Saint Just. Most of these rare LPs - all original pressings - I'd never seen in the flesh before, but with prices ranging from 40 euros to 2,000 euros - ouch! - I had to walk away. However, not before the owner obligingly spun a copy of Il Balletto di Bronzo's Ys LP for me (500 euros if I remember correctly). I knew straight away that I needed to own a copy of the LP. Not that copy, obviously. I've since settled for a 2014 reissue which is sonically stunning and with meticulously reproduced gatefold artwork.

Ignore any reviews you've read comparing Ys to Emerson Lake & Palmer - lazy comparisons like that are as likely to turn people off as steer them towards this classic album. Sure, there is keyboard virtuosity throughout, but Il Balletto di Bronzo's LP is considerably more focused and experimental than anything ELP ever released, avoiding any of the Benny The Bouncer / Are You Ready Eddy?-style knockabouts that sullied many of ELP's albums. If you love challenging progressive rock with a psychedelic twist, this one's for you. What struck me most when I first heard Ys is the intensity and focus. That and the phenomenal musicianship. God knows what the album's about, but whatever it is, the band really means it. From the run-in on side one to the dead wax on side two the listener is treated to eerie female wailing, a smorgasboard of synths and keyboards from squelching Moog to baroque spinetta and haunted dancehall piano, impassioned vocals minus the stagey theatricality that mars some european progressive music, deeply hypnotic bass grooves, urgent snare-fixated drumming, trippy stereo panning, angular guitar lines and searing lead breaks. I love it!