Carla dal Forno
You Know What It's Like
, October 14th, 2016 09:44
What to make of Carla dal Forno’s new record? In fact, should we really be listening? Recently I saw her play the songs from her solo debut, You Know What It’s Like, in Rotterdam. It felt like we, the audience, were intruding: the way she moved on the small stage felt like we were watching her unobtrusively act out some private catharsis in front of her bedroom mirror. We felt that we shouldn’t have been there. But dal Forno was, nevertheless, captivating; using dreamlike song structures and pea soupers of synth loops. We settled back and carried on watching, summoning up some patience, aware that the songs were there to unlock something inside us, too.
Patience, in fact, is the key to understanding dal Forno’s solo work: You Know What It’s Like is a grower, and one that demands repeated listening. Just two or three listens is a waste of everyone’s time – the record’s comparatively short 30-minunte running means it can glide past like someone else’s shadow. It’s a secret work, too; dal Forno has clearly taken a lot of time to make this a fleeting but intriguing glance into a specific time and place. She takes care to lay out her mysterious music for us – a music that feels timeless and ancient, full of uneasy memories and dark secrets. And, further, a music that feels potent and sensual, like a slow moving river. What really gives this record its strength is the total lack of bombast. There’s no sense of braggadocio. No sense of being in the “music industry”. No striving to make a point to peers.
Wittingly or not, dal Forno’s record also nods to a lot of kindred spirits. Those who have heard Alain Pierre’s brilliant Jan Zonder Vrees soundtrack will dig her sense of “mediaeval drama”. And those who dug Herrek’s Waktu Dulu will notice the same heavy-lidded, slow-moving, sub-tropical sensuality. The swirling synths in ‘Fast Moving Cars’ (possibly the most misleading song title in the history of alternative music) are like those on Reichmann’s Wunderbar, played by a sluggish Severed Heads. Elsewhere, the opener ‘Italian Cinema’ mirrors ‘Kant Kino’ on Simple Minds’ epic Empires and Dance, flooding the senses with the most basic of electronic hiss-overload. The record's pace often mirrors that of side two of Closer, and Joy Division’s LP slowly crept into your reviewer’s thoughts as the record progressed. Only the sly whistling in the tail out of last track ‘The Same Reply’ saves that song from treading the same old, careworn path.
Another thing: though I’m fairly sure You Know What It’s Like is a very personal record, dealing with many issues close to dal Forno’s heart, it seems to cannily sidestep any display of open emotion. Rather it creates emotional tension by balancing contrasting sounds, lyrics and moods with a sort of stony-faced impartiality. The record is too precise to make a sweeping point we can grasp, and too personal for us to empathise. But we get the musical pointers, such as the slow arpeggio on ‘DB Rip’ that drips with melancholy, and dal Forno conjures up a clear-eyed Gothicke electro that veers at times towards a sort of plainsong or village lament (as in the brilliant title track and ‘What You Gonna Do Now’). Synths swells ebb and flow, and a menace creeps into the most unexpected of places.
What is Carla dal Forno trying to tell us or allow us to know? I’m still not sure. But I’m also not sure that I want to find out. Luckily, the longer the record plays the more suspended in time everything feels: by the end, the listener is wrapped in a sort of cocoon of dulled senses. This zen-like fug is - however mysterious - enough for anyone to take away with them.