Has it only been two years since Giancarlo Erra released his debut solo album ‘Ends I-VII’? The answer is yes. This doesn’t really make sense as it feels like yesterday I sat down and listened to it for the first time. Given what’s happened in the last two years we’ll allow our perceptions of time to be a bit shaky.
What is certain is that Erra has returned with ‘Departure Tapes’. An album that both progresses the soundscapes ‘Ends I-VII’ and totally disregards them, going somewhere else entirely. As expected, ’Departure Tapes’ begins in an unassuming way. ‘Dawn Tape’ opens with the sound of vinyl crackle and a disjointed piano motif. Under this a swell of electronica gently swells until it becomes all consuming. Not a lot happens. The same motif, or variations of it at least, is repeated while the synths and keyboards become more pronounced.
It reminds me of being on holiday last year in Abersoch. We were staying in a cottage. The view from the veranda was of farmland, a busy road, the beach, sea, fishing port and eventually the horizon. Slowly I’d be able to make out trees and cattle sheds from the shadows. Listening to ‘Dawn Tape’ I’m there again. Holding the cup of tea for warmth, while watching the sun’s rays break up the gloom in the dewy silence. Just like those mornings, ‘Dawn Tape’ is absolutely captivating, whilst setting up the rest of the album. Much like ‘End I-VII’ this is an album of slow burn exhilaration.
The centrepiece of the album is ‘Departure Tape’. At 16:49 it is the longest track on the album. Much like ‘Dawn Tape’, ‘Departure Tape’ starts slowly, but instead of piano is the sound of a choral vocal that welcomes us. Under this the electronics flex their muscles and start to make their presence felt. Due to its length, there is no rush to get to the good stuff. In fact, I’d argue that the elongated build up is actually more satisfying than when the sonorous melodies start a third in. From there we are at Erra’s mercy. He delivers melody after melody before he lets rip and brings it all together for orotund outro kicks in.
The first thing you notice about ’Departure Tapes’ is how electronic it all sounds. That isn’t to say that ‘Ends I-VII’ was an acoustic affair, it wasn’t, but the electronic motifs felt muted compared to piano, cello, viola and violins. It was an album that benefited from repeat listens. With each one you were tangled in a rich web of melodies. It is just as elegant as his debut, but Erra uses the electronics to reveal more of his methods. If ‘Ends I-VII’ was a beautifully stitched tapestry, ‘Departure Tapes’ lets us see the other side. With all the hang threads and knots. It allows us to slightly understand the process a bit more, while giving us all the hooks and iridescent melodies we expect.
Maybe the title hints that from here on Erra is doing things a little differently and ‘Ends I-VII’ really was the end of that process of songwriting. Only time will tell. Luckily, an album of this beauty is worth getting lost in while we wait.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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