Sumptuously restrained album by a little known Italian band that have enough originality to move an audience into sweet oblivion.
It’s rare to hear an album as well produced as this. Everything sits perfectly recorded and played. The songs build and lift the listener up to a slightly noiresque void. It feels like familiar territory but Ofelia Dorme present a ticket to a type of musical space that not many bands can issue.
The story for me starts with an Australian band called The Paradise Motel who received a good amount of exposure and support with their brand of Post-Nick Cave acoustic dark orchestral music. I first heard them at a very young age while visiting my mother in Hobart, Tasmania when many of their members were in a grungey band called Lucy Was An Engine. I was attracted to their hand-painted guitars and fire breathing. Years of memory loss and music journalism mean that I can’t remember what they sounded like but it was fun and had moments of depth.
Keeping in contact with some of the guys I followed their progress as they became the darker and more accomplished The Paradise Motel.
The Paradise Motel created several albums of emotionally innovative music in the same vein as Nick Cave, Cowboy Junkies, Tindersticks, PJ Harvey and a handful of other gothesque bands that courted a sort of electrified acoustic sound that captured barren images of desolation and loneliness. What marked these great groups apart was that they managed to do this without falling into parody or teenage narcissism. Importantly, they never courted the same level of thin wristed effeteness in which many indie also-rans cloaked themselves into obscurity. In a sense they were reporters, writing music back from where they had been intellectually or in many cases back from strange journeys into the forgotten byways of the pre-internet Western World.
‘Pre-internet’ is important. In isolation myths grow. The internet gives people everywhere these monolithic myths (usually corporate sponsored) that bring people together in a passively consumptive way that degrades their own experiences. Neil Gaiman might muse that this means the small gods of the local world are dying out; the Native American and Aboriginal concepts of spiritual place being subsumed to a wider and more alienating context. The key thing that ties a lot of these bands together is that they channel these smaller desolate places and make them epic.
Their preoccupations are often tied into tragic small stories of rape, death, abduction, murder, drinking, all seen through a glass of confused emotions compounded by a passionate loss of control, either welcome or less so.
All this Ofelia Dorme have managed to summon in their minor opus All Harm Ends Here. Their restrained use of little acoustic motifs and double-tracked vocals creates a wonderfully sparse template for the melodies to weave their way into your heart. Considering that they seemed to have recorded the album on their own and are releasing it themselves it’s testament to what this talented foursome can achieve.
Naked Evil starts with a drum beat reminiscent of Drive by the Cars but soon enough small piano fills and supporting chords bolster the sense of swing, accentuated by the panned guitar work overall the song is quite sweet and innocuous.
Faith is always playing
A long game
Faith is always playing
An unfair game
And you know that naked evil can find you
At the edge of the world
– Naked Evil
Using repetition to sweep the track along, we’re almost done before the strings swell in and Francesca Bono lets loose on vocals bringing an emotional upsweep and twisting the sweetness into a darker more revelatory experience. It is a complete, if limited, experience. Expectations of math bombast or dystopian fugues are refused at every checkpoint.
Ofelia Dorme hint at Trip Hop in a number places throughout the album but always with their customary restraint and always complimented with acoustic reinforcement that keeps the arrangements from becoming stale. They are contemporary, sure, but in an old sense… hey if Anna Calvi can find fresh meat for her rope then who are we to disallow Ofelia?
In many places one wonders whether they can play anything complicated, they probably think this themselves, but it would never work. There is power in their restraint and they contain a fire in their music which screams for release through each track which become happily satiated towards the end. Musically they are probably one of the least selfish bands I’ve ever heard, each player supporting each other, never grabbing for the spotlight with a piece of raucous improve of tone. It all fits perfectly well together. There are questions however.
Francesca sounds authentically American on all the songs, singing in a perfectly intoned Beth Gibbons meets Natalie Merchant way that makes you wonder whether she’s Italian at all. Of course, she’s allowed to sound however she likes, no one made any mention of Nick Cave’s fairground tent preacher impersonations but in the end he did leave them behind finding something truer.
All Harm Ends Here is a great album of an impassioned maturity that is rare to find in much of music today, obsessed as it is with energy, over composition and bombastic choruses over content. It’s not something that I’d recommend to many people, it’s not something many people will like. It’s a ticket to Andover in Autumn, a place than given a choice a lot of people probably wouldn’t want to visit. It ain’t jumping and the locals probably don’t want you there but in the right mood it’s the most romantically visionary place on the planet.
Ofelia Dorme are:
Francesca Bono (vocals, guitar ,keyboards), Gianluca Modica (bass, guitar), Michele Postpischl (drums, bass), and Tato Izzia (guitar, bass).
All Harm Ends Here is out now and available through their website.