Songwriter and author Gianluca Maria Sorace (founder of Tangomarziano, which played the main stage at the Arezzo Wave festival in 2002) is the inspiration behind the Italian five-piece band Hollowblue. His own, however, dates back to an early fixation with the legendary Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd‘s tragic genius and muse, along with Chet Baker and Sonic Youth.
Hollowblue was his solo project, but with the addition of Marco Calderisi, Giancarlo Russo, Chiara Cavalli and Federico Moi it has grown, flourished and produced a debut album.
Okay, it’s rather a short album at six tracks and only about half an hour, but for sheer beauty alone it merits more than the EP label. Melancholy, meditative, meandering… a mix of plaintive vocals with a Chris Martin touch, acoustic and the occasional electric guitar, soft strings, delicate percussion.
Opener Black Birds is a good example of the album as a whole. A resolutely minor key melody, poetic and slightly fey lyrics – “The moonflower opens to the fall / birds crawl in from sea / a great flier, a stormy owl / slips from the almond tree…” add up to a seriously beautiful song.
The Barrett influence is less obvious than one would expect, the sound emerging more of a fusion of Coldplay and Jacques with the occasional touch of Goldfrapp (Felt Mountain rather than Black Cherry) thrown in – especially when the vocoder gets in the action on standout track Triplex Sin, and the violin opens up an almost cinematic landscape.
It’s perhaps not surprising that a cultural polymath like Sorace should have found something of a soulmate in Anthony Reynolds, who has explored this sort of sound for years in his own solo project Jacques, and continues to do so as anthony. He guests for one track, the aptly named Io Bevo (“I drink”), and a vintage track it is too, with the splendid opening lyrics “I drink because Keith Richards does and Madonna don’t but should…”.
The Chet Baker influence is strongest in the exquisite track called… Baker, in which limpid piano and gentle percussion provide a very soft jazz feel. Days Of Wintry Hill is more upbeat, though the violins are still mournful.
Why so short an album? Sorace and his compatriots are producing a glorious sound, and for someone who used to write “a large quantity of songs, sometimes even two songs a day” according to his biog, it can’t be a shortage of material.
It would be great if he would lighten up just a fraction, and show some of the playfulness that made Syd Barrett’s output so irresistible. In the meantime, however, this is a stunning introduction to a welcome new band. All the more welcome considering they come from Italy, more noted this century (alas) for so-called musicians displaying a great deal more cleavage than talent.