I Cani: the once obscure electro-pop persona now embraces Italian pop
“Ho paura di tutto, soprattutto dei Cani,” sings Niccolò Contessa on Glamour, the second and central album in the discography of his one man project. It translates to “I’m afraid of everything, especially of I Cani,” and it gives an idea of the complex love/hate relationship between a songwriter and the obscure electro-pop persona he started building six years ago and that reached way more people than he could have dreamed of.
The story of I Cani started in 2011 with the first album Il sorprendente album d’esordio de I Cani. Back then, no one knew Contessa’s real name, and he performed his live shows with a paper bag on his face. What everyone learned to know were his songs, written and produced in his bedroom; catchy synth-driven post-punk gems with brilliant and keen lyrics describing the contradictions of Italy and Italians, with a particular focus on the place where he comes from, a northern neighborhood of Rome.
Ironically, autobiographical elements and a taste for grotesque situations and characters were the keys that led his lyrics to be sung along by the whole indie scene. But he didn’t stop there. A few years later, he got rid of his anonymity and started pushing his career towards a new direction, somewhat close to cult ’80s Italian singers such as Lucio Dalla or Franco Battiato.
His latest album, Aurora, released in 2016, is a display of his newfound maturity. He basically revisits Italian pop. His songs become more conventional, the production hints to dance rhythms, his lyrics reflect his own personal growth. While some of his early fans were disappointed, Aurora is truly a great example of what modern Italian pop rock should sound like, but with the addition of occasional wild synths that he can’t seem to survive without.
Wild Animals: Spanish pop punk enriched by DIY ethics and politics.
One of the worst things that has happened to pop punk in the past twenty years was how the genre distanced itself from the DIY ethics it was born with. Strengthened by the catchiness of their vocals harmonies, by the approachability of their riffs and by the appealing image of an arguable rebellion, a lot of bands laid emphasis solely on the pop side of the genre, forgetting where it all came from.
It’s in this context that a band like Wild Animals, a three-piece from Madrid, is truly important. First off, their songwriting is excellent. They could have easily been released by Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords in 1999. Their last record, Basements: Music To Fight Hypocrisy is comprised of ten melodic punk rock gems with ’90s emo nuances that hint to early Saves The Day and Jawbreaker. The play fast songs with unforgettable hooks, reaching the highest peaks when the vocals of lead singer and guitar player Jamie and of drummer Paula meet, like on their anthem “Avocado”.
The lyrics are flawless, as the band is not ashamed to sincerely share their personal stories. Like on “Heavy Metal Saved My Life”, where they recount how each of the band’s members got into punk and extreme music: Youth Of Today for Paula, heavy metal for Jamie, and Rancid and Propagandhi for bass player Fon, who also runs one of the most active DIY labels in Spain, La Agonia De Vivir.
And here’s where another fundamental aspect of the band comes into play. Rather than aiming to be released by major labels or try to tour with big American pop punk bands, Wild Animals have their roots in the hardcore and DIY scene. They sing about politics, play in squats, book their own tours, release their records with the help of self-managed labels from the whole world. By doing so, they bring the genre back to where it was born, and regenerate it with enviable freshness.
Bastos: Romanian screamo band, formerly just instrumental, have now added vocals and channel late ’90s American screamo and emo.
“Henry Parker” is the third track off Bastos‘ debut LP, ‘Second Favourite Person,’ and it’s possibly the best Italian emo song of the year. Frantic and twinkly guitars wreath around a raw yet powerful sound driven by ever changing drums. Heartfelt lyrics about an ephemeral and nocturnal love story are screamed with passion in the background of a present and dynamic sonic pattern.
The funny thing is that Bastos are not from Italy but from Romania. While the rest of their tracks are sung in English, the fact that “Henry Parker” has (slightly ungrammatical) Italian lyrics already suggests what some of the band’s main influences are. Raein, for example. The sound of the iconic Italian screamo band occasionally echoes on Bastos’ tracks, but it’s enriched by a taste for cheerful emo à la Algernon Cadwallader and math-rock guitars, delivering a product that is willingly raw but extremely rousing.
As a matter of fact, Bastos, who come from several places in Romania but are based in Bucharest, started playing a few years ago as a math-rock instrumental band. After a split with Pandrea released in 2014, ‘Second Favourite Person’ is the first album where they add vocals, and the mix between screamo and the math guitars they’re able to master is what makes it so great. There’s a Topshelf Records sort of vibe sometimes, but the honesty and the lo-fi urgency this record transmit connects it to ’90s emo and screamo, as if they’re taking back the genre to its natural DIY environment.
Trachimbrod: a new “indie” side to the Swedish-sung screamo.
Glacial and glittering guitars, uniform and decisive rhythmic patterns, desperate shaking vocals on the verge of bursting. These are more or less the defining traits of screamo in Sweden, a country that is one of the most prolific when it comes to this niche genre. Bands like Suis La Lune, who have been pioneering this type of music in Stockholm for more than ten years, are known to every screamo fan in the world, but there are many Swedish bands that are quickly getting the international attention they deserve.
Trachimbrod is one of those bands. Their style is unmistakably close to the rest of their compatriots, but the quality of their music is outstanding. The band’s first album, ‘A Collection Of Hidden Sketches,’ came out in 2012 and was a real gem. Hoarse yet harmonious, with unforgettable guitar melodies emerging from a thick and icy sonic blanket, their songwriting felt unstudied and original, setting them apart from many similar bands in the world.
While their following split with Sore Eyelids showed worrisome chameleonic skills, resulting in them sounding way too similar to the dreamy shoegaze of their split partners, their 2017 comeback with ‘Leda’ is a breath of fresh air for Swedish and international screamo. It’s a soft-tempered record where atmospheric guitar arpeggios endlessly chase each other in a post-rock setting, reaching a climax only rarely and creating a dense emotional tension.
The singer – who also sings in the lively emo group I Love Your Lifestyle – switches his lyrics from English to Swedish this time, increasing the magic and the mystery of the band even more. Occasionally, he adds poignant clean parts that exalt the musical potential and versatility of the music, making ‘Leda’ a thorough record that will make it really easy to fall in love with this band.
Pastacas: Estonian “Lo-fi Folk-(nohik-)punk-electronica”
Ramo Teder is a 46-year-old dreamer and multi-instrumentalist from Viljandi, a small town in southern Estonia. He currently lives in Teijo, Finland, in the middle of a large national park filled with lakes, forests, and historical villages. Consequently, the presence of nature is felt so clearly in every song of his musical project Pastacas. This pastoral vibe, however, doesn’t reach the listener’s ears untouched: traditional music and nursery rhymes are decomposed and represented in a new and unexpected form.
The music of Pastacas feels like a complex and mystic journey into a place both familiar and unknown. The title of his last album, ‘Pohlad’, is Estonian for lingonberries. Each song is a short and immersive experience into old and fascinating Baltic tales. Guitars and mandolins are matched with old folk Estonian instruments such as the hiiu kannel, a particular four-stringed bowed lyre. Electronic beats and the repetition, inversion, and decomposition of both his instruments and his voice, though, push his music towards a surprising direction.
Teder himself defines his work as “Lo-fi Folk-(nohik-)punk-electronica”, where nohik means “nerd” in Estonian. It’s a playful definition because this sort of futuristic approach to pastoral and folk music is not easy to label. What’s sure is that experimental music is rarely as emotional and homely as it is here. The same emotion relives in the skinny and heartfelt characters he draws for the artworks of his albums, and in the contemplative live shows, where he recreates his music by playing and looping all of the instruments he uses on the records, bringing the audience to the cold yet inviting forests he calls home.
Anti-Corpos: feminist lesbian hardcore via São Paulo
The original goal of a genre like hardcore punk has always been to change things, fight injustices, and give a voice to those who are oppressed. However, it feels like with time, the hardcore scene has become a niche built for white males, with many live shows turning into a gym for violent people, a phenomenon that has inevitably pushed others away from the scene and from its great potential. It’s in this context that the importance of Anti-Corpos, who define themselves a feminist lesbian hardcore band, becomes evident. They epitomize the original spirit of hardcore.
Anti-Corpos are from São Paulo, Brazil, and they might be the angriest band you’ll ever hear. No triggered double-kicks, pompous guitar riffs, or carefully faked screams. Only real and necessary anger. Their urgency is evident in the strident vocals of singer Rebeca Domiciano: she needs to scream and to get things off her chest. It feels like her voice, while refusing to precisely follow her band mates fast-paced tempos, can actually make a difference.
Their latest full-length, released in 2015, is a great example of political hardcore. It’s titled ‘Forma Prática de Luta’ (‘Practical Way Of Fighting’) and contains eight short and intense tracks that talk about police brutality, patriarchal abuse, and finding ways to resist to any kind of oppression. The lyrics are in Portuguese, but they barely need to be translated, seeing how energetic and heartfelt everything sounds. In their live shows, this anger is even amplified while male chauvinist violence is not tolerated. It’s what hardcore should simply be like, now more than ever.
49 Morphines: the unpredictable tension of South Korean post-rock
Sometimes music can be so vivid and graspable that it allows the listener to create a visual representation, like listening to a record soundtrack a movie that doesn’t exist. ‘Partial Eclipse,’ the only full-length release by 49 Morphines, is one of those albums.
This post-punk five-piece started playing in Seoul, South Korea in 2003. In spite of a 14-year-long career, their discography only consists of one EP from 2004 and the aforementioned LP released in 2008.
49 Morphines play an impeccable mix of screamo and post-rock, similar in a way to their Japanese neighbors, Envy – yet this sound is more complex and particular. The contrast between soft and explosive is less balanced and predictable. At first, an Explosions In The Sky-like tenderness leaks through quiet and poignant guitars that never feel comforting, as the violence that comes before and after is unprecedented. The rhythm gets fast, crammed with ever-changing drum tempos and frantic guitars equally inspired by hardcore and metal. The listener’s awareness of the upcoming tempest is enough to turn even the softer moments in a vortex of tension and anxiety.
It’s been nine years since the release of ‘Partial Eclipse’, and meanwhile, some of the band members have started new bands; Noeazy plays a particularly furious type of metalcore while Jambinai mixes post-rock with traditional Korean folk instruments. Yet 49 Morphines still play a couple of shows every year, and they might even release something new in the near future according to an interview from last year.
Adorno: ’90s emo and post-hardcore mixed with Portuguese Saudade
Between 2007 and 2012, Lisbon-born band Adorno released twenty songs spread across two EPs and six splits, like a book whose chapters came out quarterly on the pages of a newspaper. And just like a book, these twenty songs tell the story of a friendship expressed through uncompromised emo that is not detachable from the political values it was born with.
“We will be aware of our own contradictions and we will make mistakes. Don’t need regret,” they sing on their sixth song, “Life. Love. Don’t Need Regret”. It’s only one of their many incurably optimistic anthems, sundering the band from the stereotypes of their motherland Portugal, often associated with Fado music and sadder feelings, and showing traces of their necessary internationality. In their first year, the band couldn’t resist doing a full European tour after just seven shows between Portugal and Spain. And the fact that now the band members live between New York, Barcelona and Lisbon confirms such spirit.
Though, when describing the band’s lyrics, optimistic might not be the right term, as they are more motivational in quite an hardcore-inspired way rather than plain happy. But the sonic framework is different, certainly influenced by ’90s emo and post-hardcore but made more exotic by the particular ability of the band to create their own personal style. Tapering rhythms and beaming guitars steal the show, while the vocals went from the coarse screams of their first EP to the hearty and amicable imperfection of their latest works. Add a little bit of saudade, the nostalgic/melancholic emotion that is typical of the Portuguese tradition, and it’s enough to turn Adorno into one of the most memorable emo bands Europe have ever seen.