With the likes of black midi, Goat Girl, Black Country, New Road and Squid currently representing the core of southern England’s popular band output, raucous and brilliant as it is, you can’t help feel we might have space for something conceptually similar somewhat but softer to the touch. This could be bar italia, a London-based trio formed of Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton.
The group’s third album and first for Matador, Tracey Denim, has the dirgy south London art school take, but with a lighter energy and more playful jangle. The whole record has a certain Flying Nun feel to it. It’s as if The Clean grew up listening to hip-hop or if Tall Dwarfs knew of Gorillaz. The drums are loud and compressed to make them ultra tight, while the guitars are left muddy and high-pitched, a pleasant combo in any genre. At times, the jangle strays into Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth patterns, somewhat mimicking hits from The Rain Parade or any of the Paisley Underground acts. This is all very much underlaid with trip-hop rhythm sections and breakdowns where the production of the record really shines through.
The first single from the record, “Punkt”, is rife with extremely jangly guitars but unfortunately it does not truly display what bar italia are capable of. The pace of the song lives up to the name but it struggles to find its own rhythm to the point where it becomes almost Veronica Falls-like but without the impressive harmonies and infectious sways.
Second track “Nurse!” almost feels like it could have been penned in the Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols era, like a forgotten band in the background of legendary documentary Dig! It’s all quite dusty and deserty; a psychedelic romp with another Portishead breakdown. In a way it’s a representation of the nightmarish hole Austin Psych Fest would leave you in after listening to similar music for three days, but bar italia bring their own, very UK-influenced tinge to it.
“My Kiss Era” has a much more trip-hop inspired beat. It’s slow and mellow but also melodic and sweet. “F.O.B.”, on the other hand, has a very “Teen Age Riot”-esque beginning before plateauing and then straying into Gorillaz or Sleaford Mods territory with Fenton’s chatty delivery. It’s technical and touches all the right buttons even with complex, irrational transitions.
Second from last track, “Friends”, is a favourite of mine. It’s very My Bloody Valentine. There’s big, compressed drums barely breaking through a wall of reverb and fuzz. It’s as if J Macis was like “sod the solos, let’s make jangle pop.” Ultimately,Tracey Denim lives and thrives in the shadows of past greats, but is unable to escape them.