Monday, June 2, 2014

The return of Georgio Valentino!

Georgio Valentino, a Greek-American under a vaguely Italian pseudonym from Palm Beach who escaped to Brussels several years ago with only his books and his musical equipment, is the sort of musician doomed to settle for a cult following in the U.S. Were he still based here, he might be living on the East Coast, finding his way in a crowd with the likes of Jon Pfeffer and Sam Mickens, an individual desiring to create real art, fighting against trends. Maybe he'd be struggling to blend in with a now-non-existent rockabilly scene in L.A., realizing that this, too, is not quite it. He has an elegance that doesn't exist much here, except among out-of-place introverted men who quietly crave kink and wear buttoned-up shirts and say things like "m'lady," and he makes music that is too challenging for a casual listen. But then, there were a number of musicians who once embodied (or continue to embody) elegance -- David Bowie, Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen, Morrissey/The Smiths, Josef K -- and perhaps this list is indicative of why he's no longer in the U.S. He's easily suited for another time, another continent, the one he fled to.

I've just set him up to sound gimmicky, but he's actually got quite a lot of talent and appeal going. It's a shame that Valentino isn't well known here, despite a roster of albums and singles reaching back to 2007; his writing is demonstrative of someone who aspires to reach the greats, rather than compete with what's current. Mille Plateaux is a wildly ambitious double-album recorded in five countries. It is at once Ocean Rain and the scoring of Nino Rota, the depth of Valentino's dashing baritone matched only by Peter Murphy. If anyone were a proper vampire, it'd be Georgio Valentino, and this is meant as a sincere compliment.

Mille Plateaux on the whole has a dramatic, cinematic quality, the first of four album sides its most accessible. Opener "I Wish We Were Insects" is a standout way to enter a record, with a suspenseful intro and somewhat cryptic lyrics: "I wish we were insects/flying across the room/eating rotten fruit/best of all we'd only live a day or two." Lead single "I Won't Betray You" is a slowly progressing 17-minute ode to Chuck Berry thrown in the middle of this double LP, something of a daring move that features ten backing singers.

The organization of this album set is extremely calculated, each of four sides tailored to a specific theme, essentially its own EP. The album's fourth side offers the real surprise element here. Ο Γιωργος Jesús Παπανικολοπουλος Sings Piero Ciampi is in fact a brief selection of Piero Ciampi covers, sung (allegedly) phonetically (but convincingly) in Italian. Valentino lacks the weary quality of Ciampi's tired voice, but pulls off the tribute beautifully because he himself has a mature, crisp voice that could just as easily belong to a man who's been singing for forty years. One of Valentino's most interesting qualities is that he may in fact have a sharp sense of humor but appears, at least musically, to take himself extremely seriously, and where these covers could easily be interpreted for their originally kitschy quality, Valentino treats Ciampi's songs with the utmost respect, and performs them as though they were his own, holding them up high with delicate hands.

Truth be told, nearly everything about this record is fantastic, not least of all the fact that it resembles nobody else's work at present. Mille Plateaux is dark and sexy without being over the top; it is precise, it is intelligent, and it is an honest peek into Valentino's interests and influences. This should only be the first of several releases that you visit.

Stream Mille Plateaux and check European tour dates here.
Download Mille Plateaux here. (Vinyl to be released June 21.)

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