Even without the looming, older sibling presence of Steve Jobs to say it, technology is subject to constant change. Human taboos, however, are an entirely different story. Parricide, incest, and cannibalism do not seem to be making any sudden mainstream marketing headway. Shocking. Music, though, has taken a novel approach when it comes to recklessly consuming its own kind. Falling in some unspecified coordinates between apathy and acceptance, a devil looking for “soul-lifting” bargain will not be found at this crossroads so much as a gaggle of people shrugging and saying, “Well, it’s gonna happen…just do it as tastefully.”
Genre cannibalism picks and chooses from a buffet of identical flesh as it sees fit. The cannibals serve their needs recklessly and regardless of original purpose. The technique creates an end product of personal preferences and desires. The likes of Diplo and Buraka Som Sistema have been beleaguered receptors of belligerence, care of swift keyboard surfers. On the other hand that eats itself, Mr. Bungle and Thievery Corporation have been hailed as innovators. Style, it would appear, is key when committing intra-speces engorgement.
Enter stage left: Italian tre amicos Guano Padano. In the interest of continuity, a culinary parallel may yet be saved. After all, it was the rambunctiously rebellious chef Anthony Bourdain who wrote of encountering Italian cuisine, “I saw how three or four ingredients, as long as they are of the freshest quality, can be combined in a straightforward way to make a truly excellent and occasionally wondrous product.” This, in essence, is what best describes the music of Guano Padano, and the trio’s sophomore effort, 2. A style of minimal efficiency. A desire to create a dish as appealing as possible. The sense of achievement that stems from conquering a challenge to make a novel creation using nothing more than ingredients immediately available. Flare is exhibited humbly, and only within quality.
As in the tradition of Italian gastronomic pleasure, the few ingredients utilized are done so to the furthest extent of their abilities — perhaps even pushed beyond them. Similar to California’s Secret Chiefs 3, traditions long traded between cultures are prepared according to the specialties and tendencies of these master chefs. Take the likes of a song like “Gran Bazaar,” for instance. The idea of surf may give pause to the layman, but in addition a healthy dose of reverb, bassist Danilo Gallo charms any passerby like a snake from a handwoven basket. Middle Eastern spices courtesy of the bassist’s voice organ are sprinkled throughout for added assurance. After all, this is a post Man or Astroman? surf music world. Rockabilly too may be a style considered passe, but a song like “Zebulon” shows that the genre never retired; rather, it has merely returned from a sabbatical to find itself.
Zeno De Rossi’s drums, too, show that they be more than mere timekeepers. Guano Padanos’ percussion is perhaps the the most adaptable tool in the kitchen; it adjusts dialectically. Along with Danilo switching repeatedly from double bass to electric, the instrument is called upon according to its abilities and a given song’s needs. If there is a call for the gentle mood-lighting and syncopation — as on “Gumbo” — such a mission is met with the time same high standards as in a dish with a strong kick – see “Bellavista” with the equally captivating solo from Alessandro Stefana and guest Paolo Botti on steel guitar and viola, respectively.
The cameo appearances on 2 serve as a sauce on the side of a dish that stands on its own, but can also be improved upon at will. If a single were to be commonly accepted as the strongest song on a record, and not just one with the most airplay potential, “Miss Chan” would be it on this album. Featuring a Marc Ribot guitar solo, the eighth song is the sort of material that is light, but delightful enough as to leave customers asking for second helpings. Likewise, Mike Patton lending his vocal abilities on “Prairie Fire” shows that the most versatile singer in rock carries a power about him that is unmatched; the longer it stews, the richer it becomes, and making anyone willing to try it much more content.
Then there is the matter of Vincenzo Vasi and his theremin, shattering minds on “Lynch” — something not altogether new, recalling Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack to the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, but intriguing enough to explore further as a side dish.
Unsurprisingly, this is not where the film music parallels end. As is the case with entirely instrumental music (barring the Patton track), a lack of words lends way to the careful painting of imaginary scenery to compensate. A land with its own customs, traditions, and cuisines — in what suddenly becomes dinner and a movie — Guano Padano’s excursions lead to the motion pictures of Sergio Leone. Look no further than “One Man Bank,” a love song to Ennio Morricone with a bassline that weighs heavier on the ears than than Pavarotti on a scale. This, however, is more of an exception than a norm.
“Sleep Walk” acts as a perfect summary spread. The song is halfway between the nameless cowboy hero riding off into the sunset and a lullaby gently guiding one towards the alternate universe of dreams. This, in and of itself, is another one of this quaint Italian pseudo-restaurant’s strengths, presumably due to abnormally high tryptophan in the turkey dishes and accompanying wine. Alessandro may be neither Earl Scruggs nor Béla Fleck on the banjo, but with a willful creativity he achieves sounds on this instrument, as well as with the steel-pedal guitar, with which it is not normally associated. As a dessert, electronic instruments are also molded to fit form, be it with strings machines, tape echoes, or otherwise.
At the end of the day, the well-to-do culinary explorer finds this to never have been a case of genre cannibalism. The idea that makes Guano Padano delightfully tasteful is not the lifting of a style and forcefully recreating a dish with an aroma of homemade nostalgia. Instead, the most pleasing factor lies in the adventurous qualities each menu item possesses.
To take 2 and call it “experimental” is to sell it short. what these Southern Europeans have done is encounter a recipe book that is merely a vehicle for innovation. The group uses its own wits, abilities, and taste to use as an influence; childlike curiosity removing any notions that would prevent the mixture of separate sounds. Yet, most noteworthy is the idea that no disproportionate attention is given to any one staff member. Rather, graces are hailed the entity as a whole. No idolatry of the individual is to be found here. This is music to keep in your collection, and a band to keep an eye on.
(Ipecac Recordings, PO Box 1778, Orinda, CA 94563)