Words by: Cian Kinsella
Right now, I often hear new albums and am instantly drawn to trip-hop as a point of comparison. But on their third album, bar italia use trippiness in a way I haven’t heard before. Sedation and destitution plague Tracey Denim, which in its heart is a rock album. Each song sounds like it’s made up of standalone, lo-fi layers of instruments that incidentally fit together.
I want to vomit as I write this, but the longing and loneliness of Tracey Denim recall Burial’s Untrue. On one of its highlights, ‘my kiss era’, we hear a bass riff, a guitar riff, the sound of heavy breathing, and a drum beat looped over and over. This forms a grungy backdrop for Nina Cristante’s despondent vocals, as the song distorts ever further.
In many ways this album is a study in 90s alternative rock – grunge, shoegaze, noise rock, the genre best described only as ‘Pavement’ – whacked through a lot of harsh clipping. ‘yes i have eaten so many lemons yes i am so bitte’ has a riff straight out of Slanted and Enchanted, with a thumping drum pulse and gnarly guitar feedback enriching the texture. Tracey Denim is like a lost tape of demos from a short-lived band whose members are now all dead or diplomats in the Middle East. When your dog dug it up in Victoria/Finsbury/Clissold/Brockwell Park, though, the reel got chewed hard and now sounds scratchy. But in a totally cool and, like, intentional way.
Whatever – I’m here for it. They have a pun album name and dumb track titles, yet bar italia know how to actually stir feeling in their music. ‘friends’ is a washed out, sunkissed noise rock anthem; ‘harpee’ and ‘horse girl rider’ go really hard. It’s just good songwriting, and it’s so refreshing to hear a band fully and effectively embracing the riff as a songwriting tool in the era of vague ‘vibes’.
With bar italia’s jump to Matador, many are wondering how they went from relative obscurity to being one of the Times’s 10 rising stars to listen out for. Less than a week after releasing the album, they’re playing a show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts – two minutes walk from Buckingham Palace in one direction and Trafalgar Square in the other.
We should remember that bar italia’s obscurity is manufactured. Most of their work so far has been released by World Music, the label run by the king of obfuscators: Dean Blunt. Blunt, music’s answer to Banksy, has worked with the ICA in the past. His fans – myself included – are often the obsessive collector types. We want to find all of his music, his YouTube freestyles, his outtakes. And if he co-signs an artist, we will check them out.
So while it’s not a perfect comparison, bar italia gigs and releases up until this point have been a bit like Supreme drops. Show tickets are hard to get, and even though there’s no limit to Spotify streaming, it doesn’t doesn’t give much away about them. The few official photos that exist of them are kind of bad quality.
Would they have this hype without the Blunt endorsement? I don’t think so. And I highly doubt they would have an ICA slot. But I don’t think this is an indictment on bar italia at all – because music is about so much more than just the music. It is also about recommendations, scenes, a feeling that you’re part of a moment. It’s bad vibes to admit it, but the constructed scarcity and mystery is fun! I love that I’m a loser for not moving fast enough on ICA tickets. For now, Tracey Denim will do.
photo credit: Simon Mercer