An 'astonishingly assured and ambitious' debut concept album by experimental duo Allez Bartoli
Panspermia is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the universe distributed by meteors and asteroids. It is also a point of departure for Belfast-based, Derry~Londonderry duo Allez Bartoli and their debut album Dola, a mysterious voyage that takes in lost cosmonaut conspiracy theories and an awful lot of eastern European folklore.
It's an honest-to-goodness, old fashioned concept album – the follow up to Gregory McGeady and Emmet Colton's 2013 EP, Lo-Tech/Hi-Fi – the concept so detailed and nuanced that it filters through every part of the record. It's an astonishingly assured and ambitious first album.
Opener 'Per Aspera Ad Astra' is all spangling, spare guitar riffs – a McGeady trademark – reminiscent of early AR Kane. A slender ribbon of space synth floats through the ether, positioning us from the off in a 1970s dystopian sci-fi universe, where you know that everything is going to end badly for everyone concerned. Goodbye, space boy.
'Koliada Drift' sees electro hand-claps, a guitar riff played seemingly in boxing gloves and non-gender specific crooning from singer and lyricist Colton, all of which is pleasantly unintelligible – in space nobody can hear you enunciate. It's woozily womb-like by the time the backwards guitar fades in, and before the sudden, juddering confusion of pizzicato strings and clattering beats; six minutes of unambiguous future pop.
'Ceci est la couleur de ma reves' – a French title; but of course! – is up next. This is 'sonic architecture' of the old school, with the effects pedals set to stun. Electro woodblocks, wind noises, mumbled miscommunications are set into point and counterpoint. There is a tidal ebbing and flowing at the coda, reminiscient of water lapping at a shingled beach. As ever, the guitar lines are cobweb thin, but interlaced with extraordinary aptitude and drenched in echo.
In the age of musical immediacy, Dola is satisfyingly all of a piece, each track drifting invisibly into the other – their shared fabric, their dark matter. The drum intro to Roxy Music's 'Same Old Scene' canters into the middle of 'Zora' and sticks around as its percussive back-bone. Deep down in the mix, subtle and experimental things are happening. Just below the surface, strange shapes blur and blend.
'Danica' is a pop song, in this context, with an actual piano line threading through it (in a minor key, of course), and Casio-tone presets shuddering gently. A bass-line is discernible beneath all the popping and fizzing, a solid, weighty anchor finally on an album that threatens to float off like gossamer.
The Drowning of Marzanna is a Slavic festival, which sees the ritualised burning and/or drowning of the goddess Marzanna, symbolic of death and winter, and celebrates the rebirth of the seasonal agrarian year. The song of the same name here sees our nameless cosmonaut bringing the spark of life to distant, dead planets.
Musically we're back in the radiophonic universe, trudging unevenly through a disused Welsh quarry. There are nods to Future Days-era Can, but there is no sense of that band's scale. This is miniaturist's music, the universe glimpsed in a grain of sand, and 'Drowning...', in terms of the quality of its effects, is the centre-piece of the album.
Finally, 'L'ora di Yarilo' again recalls AR Kane, but this time the later, popped up version of that band. There's also something of Arthur Russell's slipped disco. In a sense it also reminds me of Air's recent soundtrack for Le Voyage dans la Lune, though it has nothing of the bombast or vigour of that record. Rather, Dola is a headphones on, joss-stick lit, journey of an album – futurism of the type they used to make. Explore your inner space.
Dola is available to download now via Bandcamp.