Monday, January 26, 2009

Il Balletto Di Bronzo - Ys

It's odd that two of my favorite albums of all time are both named 'Ys'. This album and the Joanna Newsom album of the same name. At some point, I'll look up what it is a reference to. For now, I don't care too much. They are both awesome albums. This one especially.

Most who know me, know that I have a deep seated passion for dusty old progressive rock. It's almost as deep an obsession as crusty old death metal. This is the album that started me down the path. My band was on tour some years ago and we had the opportunity to play a benefit show on a Saturday night at the legendary CBGB's. We stayed with a friend of the band who lived 6 blocks from the club. We made it to their place the night before the show, so I knew if I got up early enough, I could go spend the day combing the record stores on St. Mark's Place. I know it wasn't the greatest shopping trip I was going to have, but I essentially only had 4 or 5 hours to find a souvenir or two from my first trip to NYC. I asked Dan where would be good to start (Mondo Kim's was the only suggestion I remember) and what to get. I was just getting into 70's prog at this point and I saw he had some pretty choice selections in his music rack. He said the best purchase I will ever make in my life will be if I look for an Italian band called Il Balletto Di Bronzo, as if I was ever going to remember that name. Lo and behold, I remembered enough of the name to recognize it when I saw it and based on Dan's high praise, the fact that he was a published author, and had an extremely potent CD collection, I bought it without having heard a note.
The album is singular and extraordinary. It has a heavy dose of symphonic ELP bombast going on within it, but a darkness and foreboding that ELP would never touch because it might scare away the investors. Evil, baroque jazz? Italy had some sort of connection with the prog in the 70's that no other country came close to. The bands that came out of that scene were some of the most intense songwriters and players of the era. Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Museo Rosenbach, Osanna, Quella Vecchia Locanda, AREA. Each one TOTALLY burning in their own rights (especially AREA). 'Ys' is quite possibly the album that I consider the BEST of the whole Italian lot. Lots of heavy, neoclassical organ work, mixed with an almost jazz pulse at points. Vocals have an opera-like quality without being annoying. The music itself can go from Mars Volta manicness to a simple 3 note vamp in the space of a few measures AND IT WORKS FRIGHTENINGLY WELL.
I don't know what they are singing about, but that never seems to matter to me. Like 60% of my music collection is music where you can't understand the words anyways, so what's it matter if it's in a different language. In the grand scheme of things, Yes, ELP and Pink Floyd were good guy prog. King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Jethro Tull were bad guy prog. Il Balletto lean totally to the dark side. If you have a thing for minor chords, creepy keyboard sounds, impish backing vocals and an almost occult darkness to the music, this album couldn't be more right.


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