bar italia - Tracey Denim (Matador)

bar italia – Tracey Denim (Matador)

It’s not easy to keep a mysterious aura in the music biz. Show too much, and they call you a sell-out industry plant. Keep too quiet, and you risk slipping into obscurity. But London band bar italia seems to have found a way to balance on this tightrope with the help of obfuscator general Dean Blunt and his WORLD MUSIC label. Now, with their much-hyped new album Tracey Denim hitting the shelves via Matador, the question is whether both their underground fan base and newcomers will embrace these fresh tracks.

For the past two years, Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik, and Sam Fenton have cultivated a devoted following that fills small venues, creating the elusive “if you know, you know” buzz that many bands aspire to but few attain. It’s no surprise that this is a well-connected group of musicians. Italian-born Cristante has released music under the alias NINA and is celebrated for her collaborations with Blunt, spanning music, video, and art. Meanwhile, Tarik and Fenton, also go by the name Double Virgo, a prolific lo-fi/grunge band whose latest EP was released by PLZ Make It Ruins, Vegyn‘s label. Did we mention their fans include influential artists like Mica Levi and Yves Tumor?

So, needless to say there are some weighty expectations going into this album.

Let’s get the comparisons out of the way first. bar italia definitely have that kind of cool air A&R drool over. Spindly figures in charity trench coats and sunglasses, they give out vibes like early The Cure, but with a more laid-back, zero-fucks-given attitude. They have the charismatic nonchalance of My Bloody Valentine, but without all the wobbly tape loop effects and the need for ear defenders. Musically, the smoky sheen of Velvet Underground & Nico and the crooked guitar hooks of Sonic Youth are also in there, and there’s the equally unconventional vocal styles of all three band members. On first blush, it seems bar italia could have easily been around three decades ago (and we’d probably be writing about how influential they still are today).

For a debut, Tracey Denim is pretty generous. Most of its fifteen tracks clock in at under three minutes and are built out of variations on the same skeletal rhythms, mixed vocals, and jangly/distorted guitars. This consistency can make certain parts of the album feel a tad repetitive. Stylistically, bar italia do try to mix things up, bouncing between grunge, twee, post-rock and the shared vocals between Cristante, Fenton and Tarik also provide rich layers of variety, showcasing each member’s individual character without elevating anyone above the others.

Some might initially find bar italia a bit simplistic or even self-indulgent, with tracks that amble and stumble too much to hold your attention. It’s worth persisting, because when all those constituent pieces do fall into place, bar italia rise above the hype. The rawness and ambivalence is essential to manage intricate emotions, creating insightful lyrics that seep deep into the skin.

Lead single ‘Nurse!’ epitomises their enigmatic allure, with a video that feels more like a thought-provoking art installation. The track pulsates with a sneering nostalgia that probably shouldn’t be felt until the onset of a mid-life crisis, but such is the band’s connection to a wider audience that even the “Radio 6 Dads” will be drawn in, in spite of the song’s blatant cynicism: “A mask covered your eyes and you move like crazy to your favorite song/ you said I’m coming alive haven’t felt this way since you were 21”.

The multi-vocals of ‘Punkt’ wade through the complexities of a troubled relationship across three verses from different perspectives: “Fear has a fetish for eyes / One look and you’re paralyzed.” Fenton sighs, then Tarik drawls “I’m walking ’round the room telling anyone/ That I’m not a jealous guy“, before Cristante adds “And I don’t owe you an explanation/ I just wanna lose control… just leave me alone”. Later, ‘Missus Morality’ tiptoes, bruised towards its shimmering dream pop chorus as Cristante sings: “I don’t care if you think I’m lonely, when I’m alone the world falls back into place.”

Other standout moments whizz by all too quickly. bar Italia’s sound seduces on ‘Changer’ and ‘Clark’ like Gainsbourg and Birkin holed up and strung out in a Peckham bedsit, while ‘friends’ and the final track ‘maddington’ also show they can do heavier indie with slick synths and a strong sense of melody.

Overall, Tracey Denim ‘s slow-burning appeal may require patience from some listeners, but ultimately pays off with subtle flashes of genius. For long-time followers, this ‘debut’ release is exactly what they needed: confirmation of the band’s potential to break out without compromise. Where they go next, and what boundaries are left to push, remains to be seen.

‘Tracey Denim’ is released on 19th May via Matador Records.

Photo: Simon Mercer


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.