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!


  1. You know...I felt inspired enough to track down the CD of this and in my searches found a translation in English of what it is all about... you may be interested so here it is

    Introduzione / Introduction
    The voice narrated
    to the last one who
    remained in the World
    the true reality

    And then it ordered
    to go among its people
    to say the truth
    and the game started.

    That voice pushed in the chest
    with the pain of understood things
    maybe it was in time to say it also to the others
    maybe it was in time to say it also to the others

    What's the life of a man who cried
    like watching a clean sky
    like fixing your eyes in the Sun
    like seizing a lended hand.

    And the voice pushed in the chest
    with the pain of understood things
    it had to go soon
    it had to go soon

    The poetry of a windy day
    the last leaf of a dead tree
    the first sunny day of April
    a warm body a close hand
    Primo incontro / First encounter
    He went beyond the mountains and further
    without turning back to see
    the way to make is long
    but he had to go still to go

    A man is there with his face down
    and already the ivy embraces his body
    black is all the blood he has
    on the wounds of torn ears

    The voice obliged him to scream
    all that was dying inside him
    what he screamed the wind took with it
    he would not have felt anything anymore.
    Secondo incontro / Second encounter
    He will see, he will see
    even if he can't hear
    a bright sky
    what can tell him

    A face of an old man
    close already to death
    there wasn't faith
    now it is already strong

    The gaze of a man
    who isn't scared
    what is it, if he lacks
    a strong voice

    He saw the night
    the day ending
    and women in the dark
    ready to betray

    The hand lended
    the faces emptier
    dying the best ones
    rejoicing the mighty ones

    But he didn't remain to think alone
    he had to look for something that is there
    and it wasn't night it wasn't day
    and the horizon remained there

    He didn't surrender
    he did never surrender
    he didn't ask himself
    man where are you going

    And what he saw was another man
    with those arms spread in cross
    without hearing his voice
    he moved close to him and talk
    But in those lightless eyes
    stinging thorns were embedded
    he did feel those wounds like his
    and then the light wasn't anymore.
    Terzo incontro ed epilogo / Third encounter and epilogue
    With his arms extended
    he seeked his head in the darkness
    with the fingers he found a shape

    Only the cold
    of death
    he could feel
    in his hands
    his true word
    from the chest grew up again

    But his mouth
    tired and immovable it remained
    that scream crushed him
    deep inside him it crushed him
    and the darkness around him
    then was inside him
    and dark it was

  2. Nick, thanks for taking the time to provide that translation. A reviewer (siLLy_puPPy) over at Rate Your Music
    described the concept driving Ys as: "about a man who is the sole survivor left on planet Earth who makes a journey and mysteriously disappears. The mythical city YS is not Italian at all and is actually a Celtic creation that supposedly existed off the coast of Brittany in modern day France. The city represents a magnificent and outstandingly beautiful city in Europe and how it went to hell in a hand basket because of the way it was governed." I think it's fair to say that the album is thematically dark! Even without your translation the music makes that much abundantly clear. Hope you're enjoying this album as much as me. Cheers!