Valerian Swing - Liminal

Valerian Swing – Liminal

Liminal, I presume, is derived from subliminal, limen the Latin for “threshold”. The album title suggests to me, therefore, that we, or at least VALERIAN SWING, are at the threshold. At it. Not below it, but on the threshold of… something. It feels like VALERIAN SWING are either making a bold statement, or at least, a promise. Is the band writing cheques that the music can’t cash?

Liminal, being Valerian Swings’ fourth album, is “threaded with influences from contemporary film score, jazz and electronic music, as well as math and post rock”. They’re actually describing the album better than I can! VALERIAN SWING’s own album blurb also hails them as “one of the most exciting contemporary acts in Europe”. If they wrote that blurb themselves then, that is somewhat hubristic. But what a neat trick if they can pull it off!

Now, not being a neo-prog fan, and Valerian Swing having a typical neo-prog name (it’s a syllable thing), I’d normally submit to my prejudice and dismiss this album. But I heard a taster, and it piqued my interest. This is different – it isn’t “prog”, it’s a band being progressive! Now that’s what we’re talking about!

On VALERIAN SWING’s Bandcamp page it strongly suggests the band doesn’t subscribe to the notion that they should be described as anything but genre-fluid. They are clearly trying lots of stuff, it isn’t just their PR bumpf. For example, they’re collaborating with people who work in other genres. Now, I don’t know much about Grime, but the third track on the album features a Grammy Award winner from That London called Flowdan. Dunno, sorry. Flowdan, apparently, has worked with Skrillex. Skrillex, in case you don’t know, has had a very interesting story arc. (Ed’s note – I thought skrillex was the main part of the diet of sperm whales, or summat?). He’s gone from hardcore rock to Dubstep. Surely that has to rub off on anyone working with him, and probably anyone working with anyone who has worked with Skrillex?!

The album opens with Gor-ai – This is all drums and swing! You read that correctly – This is proper 1950s style, quintet-in-Ronnie-Scott’s, moustache-less goatee, cravat and diet pill swing! But what’s this? Layered in there is the most repetitive (and almost certainly to some, somewhat annoying) plinky-noise sample. This eventually becomes drowned in an oceanic swell, culminating in an instrumental cacophony. Then the song bursts into a new vibe. The plinky-noise clearly resurfaces and still bobs along in this choppy musical ocean… You hang in there, plinky-noise… you make me smile!

But then the song does other things. It never stops changing. At one point the drums take on an almost Purdie shuffle-like vibe before giving way to an orchestral tsunami of electronica to the beat of what could be a military snare, and before the 05:45 is up, someone engages the ABS with a heavy foot – and it’s all over. And no more plinky-noise.

This is only track ONE! This album is shaping up to be really adventurous!

I have to be honest, although I am a fan of wraps and of toast, I’m not a fan of rap or toasting. But the music is nice. It reminds me of the time I was switched on to Paul Oakenfold’s 2002 album Bunkka, which I highly recommend. I can’t explain the qualities that define the delivery of rap, but I find the ubiquitous aggressive tone unsettling and, frankly, a bit cliched. Ironic, considering my musical preferences. Nevertheless, I just can’t connect with it.  It’s not the rappers, it’s me. (No, seriously, it IS the rappers).

In any case, if there’s a stylistic theme to this album, it is only really in its variety. Case in point: There’s a variety of vocal styles, instrumentation, different rhythms, ambience, rock, rap (I could go on) present on this album, and it acquits itself well. Plus, as heard in the promo video for Pond Riddim, there’s muted trumpet, Pinky and Perky and Gregorian chant – ALL AT THE SAME TIME! And there’s more! In the same song(!) there’s a Rhodes style electric piano and sequenced synth. C’mon – there is never a dull moment on this album.

Are VALERIAN SWING “one of the most exciting contemporary acts in Europe”? Realistically, nobody can quantify this statement. I certainly can’t compare VALERIAN SWING to all the other acts on the continent. But I’d love to hear the others that are contenders. They are definitely contenders.

You can cash that musical cheque with confidence.

01. Gor-ai (5:45)
02. Atacama I (5:51)
03. Badman (Ting) feat. Flowdan (3:26)
04. The Ritual (8:29)
05. Indigo feat. Giovanna Cacciola (4:35)
06. Pond Riddim (4:24)
07. Home (8:16)

Total Time – 40:46

Stefano Villani – Guitars, Electronics, Vocals
David Ferretti – Drums
Francesco Giovanetti – Baritone Guitar, Synths
~ With:
Paolo Raineri – Trumpet (3 & 6)
Mattia Cipolli – Cello (4)
Elisa Bognetti – French Horn (4)
Matteo Ranellucci – Piano (6)

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 21st June 2024

Valerian Swing – Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube