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Bar Italia
Tracey Denim Zara Hedderman , May 17th, 2023 08:56

There is no mystery to the London trio; it's all there in the music, finds Zara Hedderman

There’s a post on the r/DeanBlunt subreddit from February 2023 where someone, a self-confessed fan of the avant-garde artist, poses the question: “What[’s] the appeal of bar italia”? They ask for sincere answers to this query, replies that go beyond citing “cool guitars”, “goes hard” or “nice music”. One user responded with “...their image is quite secretive and enigmatic,” while another simply said, “it’s just really earnest raw music…their sound just has so much personality”.

I happened upon this thread whilst searching for an interview with the London-based three piece, made-up of Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton, in the hope of gleaning some insight into the writing and recording of Tracey Denim, their third album and first to be released via Matador having put their previous work out under the aforementioned Dean Blunt’s World Music. Unsuccessful in my pursuit, I soon realised that everything you need to know is, in fact, in their music. From their connection to Blunt, (parallels to his late-night lo-fi production style are prominent throughout this release) to their appreciation of 90s shoegaze, post-punk and to a lesser extent grunge sensibilities which inform their mostly minimal compositions and, most crucially, what preoccupies their thoughts.

Despite the hazy air of mystery that surrounds the group, it cannot be said that they are in any way evasive in their songwriting. Thematically, Tracey Denim vacillates between the desire to “lose control”, navigating new realities (“Going through the motions of living without you by my side”) and the ensuing fear of what will happen in the process of letting someone go, of being alone.

This is acutely articulated across Tracey Denim’s particularly excellent closing suite of songs, notably ‘Clark’. As we reach the end of the album, we’re left with the sense that hope is around the corner as Nina Cristiante intones, “So I close my eyes and try to breathe / to try to leave you behind me,” atop the pop-inflected arrangement of ‘Maddington’. Before we reach that resolution, the trio enhance the anxiousness anchoring much of their lyricism and muted vocal performances with a nicely varied palette of looped piano (‘Guard’), fuzzed guitar tones and tempered drums which meander and develop nicely across the record’s duration.

And yet, despite the undercurrents of fear and loss, there’s a great deal of resilience which, again, is reflected in both the music and lyrics. ‘Missus Morality’ begins with a spacious and sweetly strummed riff as Cristante softly notes, “I know I trip and stumble while I’m trying to be graceful / And I don’t care if you think it’s funny / I brush the dust off and I lift myself up.” A few moments later, before the song erupts, we’re enlightened on the differences between being perceived as lonely and the comforts of solitude: “And I don’t care if you think that I’m lonely / When I’m alone the world flips back into place.” The duality across Tracey Denim makes each return all the more rewarding, and crucially, reassuring.

Musically, the trio’s dexterity is understated. There are several subtle flourishes in their lo-fi production that spark a curiosity to return and pay closer attention to their oft muffled admissions to gather the pieces of the puzzle. These flickers present themself in the glittering jangling guitar tones that pulse in ‘Punkt’ and ripple throughout the likes of ‘Clark’, ‘Harpee’ and the infectious closer, ‘Maddington’. These moments shine brighter against the otherwise dominant darker atmospheres and instrumentation on the more minimally composed ‘Horsey Girl Rider’ and the eerie atmosphere of ‘My Kiss Era’. There’s the added aspect, too, that each of the trio lend their vocals and thus switch up narrative structures and perspectives which broaden both the thematic base and melodic structures of Bar Italia’s endlessly evocative work.

And so, to return to the original question: What’s the appeal of Bar Italia? Well, they’re one of the few bands to emerge in more recent years that aren’t relying on an interesting story to sell their music. It’s refreshing then that their music comes without a prescribed meaning being spoon-fed to listeners. This allows the listener to come to their own conclusions; are the losses they are singing about inspired by the death of a romance or a close friend or family member? Do the intimate details really matter when the feelings their work conjures in audiences resonates? Their musicality is familiar, as are the sentiments expressed in their lyrics. Simply, it’s just really earnest raw music.