Every now and again in the grind of ‘Real Life’ something special happens and it makes you think to yourself “That’s what life is about… that’s why we keep ploughing on, just for those moments”, whether it is a wonderful point in time in your relationship or family (usually the best moments in anyone’s life), or in some other area of our existence. As we wade through the morass of life’s challenges we try to find ways to make the passage more pleasurable and positive, and many of us derive comfort and release in our music… but like many things in life, music can start to feel a little mundane, predictable and lacking in sparkle at times. Then, like those special personal moments in life, we sometimes stumble over something totally unexpected and special in music, something which touches us in ways that we cannot always explain or rationalise, but just feel at a deeper level.
Detachment, the new album from Italian band Barock Project, is one of those special musical moments for me. I knew nothing about them and when I was asked to review the album, a blank sheet with no preconceptions or knowledge of this band. Sometimes that can be rather a challenge as one has no reference points or history upon which to triangulate and navigate one’s way through unfamiliar music… and sometimes that total lack of knowledge and preconceptions is a great Joy of discovery.
Detachment commences atmospherically with the sound of falling rain and a gentle motif by Luca Zabbini before Barock Project launch into the remarkable Promises with a pulsing, electronic synth introduction. Chiming U2 like guitars join the synth rhythms leading to a keyboard fanfare which tells us that this is a confident and skilled band, and then Zabbini begins singing in a warm and appealing voice over rolling drums and piano. This composition could have rolled along in a similar and rather pleasing vein and it would have been a good introductory song, but Barock project take it to an unexpected level as a HEAVY guitar break plunges the piece into a thundering section reminiscent of Riverside on Anno Domini High Definition. The more melodic feel of the early song returns over the same driving rhythm to finish off an outstanding opening to the album. The quality continues on an upward trajectory as Happy to See You grooves subtly and rhythmically across the speakers with piano and woodwind sounds from the keyboards underpinning some beautiful vocals. The pace and tempo picks up joyously with keyboard strings adding intensity as Zabbini repeatedly sings “Happy to see you”. The rest of this varied and bewitching song flows along with a particularly resplendent guitar solo by Marco Mazzuoccolo. There is more to Barock Project than first seems apparent though as the lyrics for this song (by Peter Jones) show, by subtly concealing a melancholic and bitter ending within an up tempo and joyful musical setting:
Happy to See You? Maybe not in this song, but I’m certainly ‘Happy to Hear You’, Barock Project, if the songs continue being this good. From the start it is also clear that sonically this release is produced with crystalline clarity. This is appropriate for a sparkling album which just sounds so joyful and beautiful – this is not an album of the sinister or melancholy, and whilst there is some sadness and emotion in Barock Project’s art, the overriding feelings engendered by these very well played and finely written songs are positive and warm… and that cannot be a bad thing these days, can it?!
One Day maintains the very high quality of this album with a song which builds from a quiet but slowly intensifying opening into a stately piece with string and flute sounds interweaving over a propulsive rock song, driven along crisply and skillfully by Francesco Caliendo and Eric Ombelli on bass and drums respectively. Secret Therapy takes a completely different direction with swirling Eastern sounds.
They say one can tell a lot by the friends one chooses so it reassuring to find that Barock Project have recruited the excellent Peter Jones, renowned from his great work as Tiger Moth Tales and with Red Bazar, to guest on lead vocals for Broken. After the kaleidoscopic journey through various musical styles and sounds for the first few songs it feels like we have reached a calmer oasis as Jones initially sings softly over the piano… but by now we should know that Barock Project do not do ‘normal’ or the expected, and the song erupts into a dramatic progressive rock piece with a scintillating guitar solo by Mazzuoccolo as the song builds in intensity to Jones singing:
When will time heal my broken soul…”
Just why are the best songs often the most sad! Ludovica Zanasi then joins in to give a beautiful female counterpart to the Tiger Moth man in an emotional end to the song. Peter Jones returns for the much simpler Alone, with an intro echoing slightly of Please Don’t Ask from Duke by Genesis. This gentle piano-led song fits Jones’ fine voice perfectly and shows, whilst Zabbini has a very good voice of his own, that like so much of this album which he masterminded he has a very fine ear for knowing the sounds, instruments and styles to combine perfectly for the greatest impact of the song. What is also remarkable about these songs is just how much variety and imagination they pack in to songs that are not enormously epic in length, without sounding overcrowded and fussy. First and foremost, Barock Project have decent melodic and interesting songs at the core of their pieces and whilst they hone and embroider the songs with ornate sounds and universally stellar musicianship they do not ever spill into over indulgence or pretentiousness – they’re just bloody good rock songs like Rescue Me, which is also laden with hooks. Twenty Years glides in on a gossamer wing of acoustic guitar under Zabbini’s lovely vocals, with string sounds adding lushness… before we take a sinister synth turn and dramatically explode into an exciting rock passage with Mazzuoccolo’s coruscating guitar to the fore. Zabbini’s insistent piano and stabbing organ take over before orchestral sounds lead us to an electronic bridge back to the harmony vocals and memorable melody – this is truly outstanding, and all in just 6 minutes!
A New Tomorrow now takes the ‘predictably unpredictable’ path of a Barock Project piece, alternating between lilting acoustic parts and scintillating rock passages, punctuated by fine singing. A lovely keyboard solo illuminates this piece which I suspect would be a gem when played live. Spies brings the album to a relatively calm and restrained conclusion.
Detachment should undoubtedly feature in many ‘Best of 2017’ lists, and I am struggling to remember an album that I have enjoyed quite so much in a while… and that’s the feeling that this album engenders – JOY.
01. Driving Rain (1:02)
02. Promises (5:05)
03. Happy to See You (7:37)
04. One Day (7:23)
05. Secret Therapy (5:37)
06. Broken (9:10)
07. Old Ghosts (4:07)
08. Alone (3:14)
09. Rescue Me (4:55)
10. Twenty Years (6:06)
11. Waiting (5:43)
12. A New Tomorrow (7:39)
13. Spies (7:23)
Total Time – 74:59
Luca Zabbini – Lead Vocals, Keyboards & Guitars (Electric, Acoustic & 12-string)
Marco Mazzuoccolo – Electric Guitar
Francesco ‘Sherman’ Caliendo – Bass Guitar
Eric Ombelli – Drums & Percussion
Peter Jones – Vocals (6 & 8)
Alex Mari – Vocals
Ludovica Zanasi – Vocals
Record Label: Artalia
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 20th March 2017