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Primo!
Sogni Bernie Brooks , May 28th, 2020 08:43

Primo! spruce up well-worn influences on their second LP, Sogni, delivering an invigorating, unique listening experience, says Bernie Brooks

Back in April, the dog had to go to the vet. On our way across the city, we cut through downtown. It was almost entirely devoid of people. Detroit's been hit extraordinarily hard by Covid-19. The emptiness of the scene was tragic, but also – for an old-ish guy like me – off-puttingly nostalgic. It reminded me of the weird normal of living next door to a dominatrix, in the same building as a real-deal jazz singer and a rave-damaged, wannabe techno DJ, on a barren block nearly twenty years ago, of navigating a similarly depopulated city centre, of going to grubby rock venues three or four times a week. 

This ill-timed trip down memory lane was triggered in part by Primo!'s second proper LP, Sogni, a spidery half-hour of post-punk-inflected Melbourne garage rock, which happened to be blaring from the speakers as my partner and I cruised down Michigan Ave, the dog's head poking out the window, basset ears flapping in the wind. At times evocative of classic Flying Nun bands like The Chills or maybe The Clean playing 'Platypus', Primo! are more than the sum of their influences, differentiating themselves via sharp songwriting and strangely invigorating delivery. 

Which shouldn't come as a surprise, given the quartet's pedigree. Consisting of new addition Amy Hill, Xanthe Waite, Violetta Del Conte-Race, and Suzanne Walker, most of the group had already made their mark in Melbourne and beyond. You see, half of Primo! – Hill and Waite – are half of the very excellent rock oddity Terry. Hill is also a member of the legendary Constant Mongrel. Del Conte-Race, for her part, did time as a member of goon-rock outfit The Shifters. What all these bands do – Primo! included – and do well is spruce up well-worn touchstones. They take something you've heard a billion times, put their spin on it, and make it sound fresh, original – even if, strictly speaking, it isn't, not entirely.

Opener 'Things To Do' kicks off with a chugging guitar and almost affectless vocals delivered in a cadence that wouldn't be out of place on a Terry LP. It's a short amuse-bouche, prepping the palate for the songs to follow. While not quite in Young Marble Giants territory, these are minimal tunes: a riff, a simple beat, group vocals, maybe a synth accent or a little bit of horn. The feeling is shambolic, off kilter – a bike with bent rims. 

Primo! have a knack for asking big questions in their deceptively simple songs. 'Best And Fairest' asks "What makes a life a rich one?" in exactly that way. Eventually, it works its way around to "Who will you pay? And who pays you?", before sandwiching the story of a teenager leaving home between a fantastic, warbly bass hook and the late addition of some watery synth. Album highlight 'Love Days' comes later. It's a woozy, shaker-driven number that seems to prod at the idea of nostalgic rumination.

While we're back on nostalgia, let me let you in on a secret: most of those Detroit garage rock bands I went to see in the aughts, the ones that occasionally popped up in the NME? They weren't very good. By that point, the scene was more or less creatively tapped out. You could argue it died with the Gold Dollar, that its best bands were creatively spent by the mid-to-late 90s. A lot of it was mimicry, loud but empty, as derivative as so much of the knock-off post-punk kicking around back in those days. What makes a band like Primo! rise above such criticisms is the sense that they're interpreting their influences rather than imitating them, and doing so in a way that no one else can – in a way that makes their contribution seem essential to the ongoing dialogue that is rock music.

Not too long ago, Luke Turner's terrific piece on the equally terrific Elastica sparked an interesting Twitter discussion on the merits of originality between Turner, John Doran, and David Bennun. To paraphrase what I took away from it: sure, originality is important, but the feeling of originality can be just as good. And Primo!'s new LP feels great, especially when cruising around town on a spring day with your partner and dog – even if it's only a mundane, unavoidable trip to the veterinary clinic.

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