[Reviewed by Psymon Marshall]
I’ll be honest, Mario Lino Stancati was more than a bit of an unknown quantity to me when I first heard his music – the experimental music scene is vast and filled with obscure little corners of both darkness and light, alive with both utter dross and sparkling gems. I can happily report that Cross the Desert belongs firmly in the latter category, showcasing a complete grasp (and mastery dare I say) of a spectrum of styles, genres, moods, and atmospheres. It appears, at least to my ears, that Stancati isn’t afraid to explore areas outside of his comfort zone, as here we will find the peaceful, the majestic, the bombastic, the chaotic, the psychedelic, and everything else in between.
‘Plenus Part I’ conjures up images of Frank Herbert’s desert planet Arrakis, the setting for his epic Dune series of sci-fi novels. Vast open spaces, where the voice is caught by the winds and snatched away, forever lost amongst the desolation and aridity. Those winds are the home of ghosts, their presences eternally moving, unsettled and destined to wander. Here everything exists on a large scale, where the horizons are endless and always out of reach. One can stand here amongst many and still feel lonely.
‘Verrà dopo il Fiore’ (roughly translated from the Italian as ‘It’ll Come After the Flower’) begins with expansive pulsing chords, accompanied by shimmering bell-like flutings, eliciting a warmer, closer mood, an oasis perhaps offering shelter and respite. A blue sky isn’t as threatening here as it is in the desert, its azure clarity a sign of reassurance, and the blazing sun and its heat is filtered through palm leaves or the latticed window of some welcome caravanserai. Those hitherto battering winds are quieted, decelerated into soothing balms for both the body and the soul. ‘O quam tristis et afflicta’ (Latin for ‘Oh, how sad and sore’) creates a mood for reflection, the thoughts and memories of the weary traveller home from his wanderings, pondering upon his experiences, his triumphs and losses, at journey’s end. It turns the listener inwards, deep into his/her own inner landscape, into the dark recesses of memory and, perhaps, regret.
‘Kabalika! !’ is moved by a completely different spirit, one that isn’t necessarily benign or friendly to man, a harbinger of chaos, perhaps, full of mischief and malice, ready to unleash its maleficence. ‘Torrida Estate’ sounds to me like one of those storied and long-since abandoned country houses surrounded by landscaped gardens full of statuary and deeply shadowed forests, a realm where the supernatural has overtaken and invaded. Rack and Ruin are its names, a place where rooms hide dark ephemeral figures and the rust and dust of memory have accumulated in its corners. Melancholy and regret lie heavily here, infused into its very walls and locations. ‘Dove Scordarmi’ (‘Where to Forget Me’) ventures further into that shadow-encrusted forest, the filtered light greyly and dimly illuminating the faint paths between trees. Ephemeral things are seen from the corner of one’s eyes, flitting and fluttering, never quite materialising into anything substantial. Sadness lingers here as if made of solid matter, tangible and able to be felt and seen. This is the twilight world, the realm existing between day and night, a material transition point overlapping the diurnal and nocturnal. Here is where death and loss are manifest most sharply.
‘Gola D’Aria’ soars and yet scratches at the nerves, cutting and scraping, tearing away the surface to get to the real substance. Perhaps whatever it is is looking for something elusive and abstract, an essence rather than anything manifest and concrete. It’s gently terrifying, to coin a phrase, seeping by a process of unfelt osmosis into one’s nerve centres, its subtle fingers probing and piercing. Now we descend into the grainy drone noise of ‘Saturami’, presenting us with a headlong and howling dive into a maelstrom whose force sweeps us along inexorably and unstoppably. Perhaps whatever it was that was dissecting us in the previous track has become impatient and is taking a less subtle and more direct approach. ‘E non saper nuotare’ (Latin for ‘And not being able to swim’) seems appropriate in a strange way – the last thoughts maybe of someone about to die. We’re treated to a voice intoning words over a slowly pulsating drone, an announcer of some unfortunate doom emerging from out of a suffocating darkness.
‘The Voice of the Fountain’ is cavernous, a male voice singing against a backdrop of field recordings of a fountain and what sounds like a rusty sign swinging in the wind. Perhaps this is what happens when we emerge into the light on the other side, a disorienting readjustment to a new a new mode of being, that transitional period when all is unfamiliar and has to be guessed at. In ‘The Impassive Harmony of Objects’ we’ve entered a decidedly experimental landscape, a stroll through territory where the concatenation of sounds produces odd harmonics and unforeseen sounds, suggesting new ways of expression and listening.
‘Plenus Part II’ brings us back full circle, a shimmering, clangourous return to substantiality. That dry wasteland is still there as it was in part one but here the temperature has dropped considerably, a continent of ice and rock rather than one of carpets of searing sand. It’s still lonely out here and yet, we nevertheless feel that our presence isn’t the only one in this place. Hiding in the crevices and interstices are Others, devoid of definition and interpretation but corporeal nonetheless. And we are aware that they’re watching us closely.
An album that is unashamedly and unapologetically experimental in its approach, and unafraid to stray from accepted definitions of genre(s). This can be seen as a gazetteer of alien and non-terrestrial landscapes, descriptive of physical and mental panoramas and vistas that overlap with one another to disorienting effect. It bridges the chasm between the substantial and insubstantial, the accessible and inaccessible, forging new materials to work with and listen to at the same time. It’s appropriate that Unexplained Sounds Group have released this, as it delineates the familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously, in simple yet complex terms. Definitely one to add to one’s collection.