A style of music that contains easily recognisable tropes from the original era of classic progressive rock.
If my definition of the genre “Prog” in the 21st century is right – as, of course, it is – then Italian band Homunculus Res most decidedly find it a perfect fit, like a well cut suit from Milano. But whereas the majority of modern prog bands mine a seemingly inexhaustible seam of Genesis and Yes influences, Homunculus Res make it far more interesting by joining a select few groups who opt for the less popular but just as, if not more, gratifying Canterbury branch of the progressive rock tree. Which is fine by me, as the more esoteric the influence the more likely it is to shake my booty, and like the best modern prog it takes some quite obvious influences and moulds them into something fresh and satisfying, which is rather the exception to the rule among the densely overcrowded Prog foliage, I find.
Come si diventa ciò si era, which ironically enough given what I said in that opening salvo translates as “As it reverts to what it was”, is the band’s second album. It shows more of the fine instrumentation and arrangements that lit up their debut Limiti all’eguaglianza della parte con il tutto from 2013, and raises their organic, involving and ultimately human sound to another level.
Probably the biggest influence here witnesses the spirit of Dave Stewart living in these keyboards. Like Hatfield And The North, Homunculus Res have a liking for the surreal, an example being Dogface reprise, which occurs before its parent track, and is recorded backwards, natch! Dogface and its reprise feature a Richard Sinclair/Robert Wyatt “underwater” vocal hybrid that should put a smile on the face of any fellow Canterbury follower, I’m sure. Add to all that many other stylistic nods to Canterbury topped off with a subtle hint of classic prog winding its wispy tentacles through the record, and it is a wonder that this album was not released on AltrOck’s Fading Records imprint, their home for all things retro.
Even though Homunculus Res may be a band looking back to bands that were looking forwards, they infuse their music with an infectious joie de vivre in the delivery, and no little skill in execution, easily overcoming any accusations of resting on the laurels of others. A keyboard dominated album, but not exclusively, the album features several complex and fulsome arrangements, and appearances from all manner of guests including The Muffins’ David Newhouse and our very own Jarrod Gosling (aka Regal Worm), who adds his trusty Mellotron and synth skills to a trio of tracks near the beginning of the album. Come si diventa ciò si era is crammed full of gorgeous instrumentation – just listen to that dreamy synth solo on Belacqua, to highlight just one of many instances of the considerable chops on display.
Oh, and there’s an “epic”, too. With the 18-minute Ospedale Civico (Public Hospital), the band might have taken a titular cue from Egg’s A Visit To The Newport Hospital, and there are some musical parallels, but lyrically they are poles apart. Ospedale Civico is a surreal paen to the sometimes austere virtues of Italian public health provision, or at least it seems that way from what I can make out. My good friend Raffaella has kindly translated a few lines from this song for me, and one verse translates as:
Thank heavens they say
It will be nothing to worry about
But it would be better if you stayed here
To do some tests
Look, colonoscopy is not painful
This may lose something from its Italian origins, but you can get the surreal gist, I’m sure. Musically this piece is full of many interesting twists and turns and is certainly not one of those “long for the sake of it” prog fan-appeasers you will commonly find elsewhere. Thematically driven by the solid bass line, the tune drifts through languid introspection and thoughtful musing with some panache and easily holds this listener’s attention throughout.
Countering this dreamy vibe is the infectious alt-pop of La Felicità (Happiness), which conveys the title effortlessly in its one and a half minutes by way of a jaunty melody and a neat flute intro. Indeed, the mission statement of the album appears to be the opening track title, Operazione Simpatia (Operation Pleasantness), a summery instrumental that skips away across the sunlit meadow of one’s imagination, with some nice English horn and oboe adding a nice touch. The first helping of the surreal comes with Vesica Piscis (Fish Bladder) which ventures deep into Hatfields/Egg territory, and as far as I can gather from the vagaries of Google Translate relates an odd tale of the healing power of the sea, and seagulls eating sausages, which explains some of the cover art at least. All of this has benefited from some classy mixing and mastering by the AltrOck production dream team of Paolo Botta (who also guests on synths) and Udi Koomran, a duo who have set themselves high standards, met here with room to spare.
Continuing AltrOck’s tradition of well designed tri-fold out covers, Dario D’Alessandro in addition to the minor matter of having written all the music here, also contributed the individualistic artwork. It is good to see a label putting some thought into CD covers in an age where the humble compact disc is becoming little more than afterthought for their rivals. I must admit I never thought I’d ever be getting sentimental about the decline of the CD!
The fiftieth release on Italy’s fabulously esoteric and never disappointing AltrOck label sees this fine Sicilian band continue their obsession with a scene named after an area of the UK similarly stuck out on a limb, all carried out in a positive, life-affirming, and thoroughly enjoyable way.
01. Operazione Simpatia (2:11)
02. Doppiofondo del Barile (2:50)
03. Vesica Piscis (6:22)
04. Dogface reprise (1:50)
05. Opodedoc (4:26)
06. La Felicità (1:27)
07. Ottaedro (2:45)
08. Egg Soup (0:50)
09. Belacqua (3:39)
10. Ospedale Civico (17:52)
11. Dogface (3:40)
12. S invertita (0:52)
13. Paum (1:53)
14. Schermaglie (1:51)
Total time – 52:36
Dario D’Alessandro – Guitar (R), Voice, Bass (on 4, 7, 10, 11 & 12), Synthesizers
Davide Di Giovanni – Keyboards, Bass (on 8 & 13), Choirs, Drums (on 13)
Daniele Di Giovanni – Drums
Mauro Turdo – Guitar (L)
Daniele Crisci – Bass
David Newhouse – Saxophones, Bass Clarinet (on 9 & 10)
Aldo de Scalzi – Voice, Organ, Guitar (on 4)
Steven Kretzmer – Piano (on 8)
Alco Frisbass – Synthesizers (on 2)
Paolo Botta – Synthesizers (on 2, 5, 9 & 11)
Regal Worm – Synthesizers, Organ, Mellotron (on 3-6)
Dario Lo Cicero – Flutes (on 6 & 10)
Wyatt Moss-Wellington – Choirs (on 10)
Giorgio Trombino – Alto Saxophone (on 3, 5 & 14)
Giuseppe Turdo – Oboe, English Horn (on 1)
Record Label: AltrOck Productions
Country of Origin: Italy
Year Of Release: 2015