Have you ever wondered where all the creativity and hedonistic exuberance of the Downtempo era went? The other day I packed my bags for an extended vinyl playing session at a bar, and when I started to select music for the bag with the older stuff and looked at all those albums, Thievery Corporation, Kid Loco, all the K&D stuff with its spin-offs, I wondered if the genre really had more or less spent its capacity at some point.
But then I listened to what this guy from Catania just released a few weeks ago, and I immediately had my answer. No, I concluded, the story must have been a different one. By some strange twist of fate, all of the talent and style that were a trademark of the era must have been accumulated somewhere in a different dimension and then all beamed down to Catania, to this bearded dude that could both be casted as a fisherman or chosen as a model for campaigns selling super expensive watches.
Roberto Acosta, just a year younger than I am, a guy that reportedly is a well-known DJ and producer down on the Eastern coast of Sicily, must have collected all of his experience and musical knowledge, taken all the talent that the heroes of the Downtempo era had left behind at some point, injected a good dose of Italian touch and then seems to have taken nothing but really good decisions turning this into an absolute gem of an album.
The amount of cool that emanates from the ten pieces of music on this long player is nothing short of stunning. Whatever the late 90s and early 00s had to offer, Acosta just skims the cream off the top and blends it with amazing lightness and ease. He applies just the right amount of Ambient and Psychedelic, never goes too far in quoting the Trip Hop era, and sometimes even brings in an air of classic Italian soundtrack music somewhere between Morricone and Umiliani.
It starts perfectly with “Apples 65”, a simple three and a half minute intro that perfectly sets the tone, feeling like a Kid Loco / DJ Cam hybrid, followed by “Cellars” which keeps the Kid Loco mood and adds a touch of Morcheeba. The vocal talents of Manuela Amalfitano may not necessarily reach those of Skye Edwards, but it’s a good enough job to keep us happy.
The title of “Cellars” (probably) refers to the great wines of Sicily, just like “Three Chestnuts”, “Lady G” and “Unna”, the three titles that follow on page one. The first one is another excellent trip back into the Trip Hop era, the three chestnuts pointing towards Trecastagni, a village close to Taormina that is known for its excellent wine. I’m not sure which wine “Lady G” is referring to, it’s fun to wonder and search, I imagine it’s a wine called Donna Grazia, and from the sound of the track the Lady is not just graceful, but quite seductive as well. Just like the mix of styles here – a bit of Axelrod, a taste of Umiliani, and the already accustomed Trip Hop undercurrent.
Following the slightly ominous “Unna” (wonder what that one is referring to, couldn’t locate it) Roberto Agosta does this really nifty trick of directly referring to Massive Attack (the “Mezzanine” years) without committing plagiarism – probably because he gives “Varanni” a dash of “Endtroducing”. Oh, and Varanni is a part of Catania that others call Viagrande. My guess is that this might just be where Roberto grew up and got his cool.
“Carricante” follows, a nice little intermezzo featuring a monologue in Spanish. This time it’s wine again, from the slopes of the Etna, Sicily’s majestic volcano. The musical quotes keep coming, just like the references to Sicily. “Don Alfio” (another Catania landmark) – in what could be called a really cool DJ Cam homage, and on “Millstone” you could easily argue that it follows the grooves of early Boozoo Bajou classics. In the end it all dissolves in a dreamy and psychedelic space odyssey, leaving us wondering what on earth might have happened to Roberto Agosta and if we could get some of that stuff too.
What an album. It’s all over the pre- and post-millennium years, but without sounding even remotely yesteryear. I love it. It will get plenty of airtime when I do my bar thing next month, and people will wonder what that stylish stuff is. Maybe someone will come up to the booth and ask, man what is this, Cam? Some obscure Massive Attack remix? Shadow? And I’ll just smile and say “Agosta” and take another sip of Sicilian wine.
Release for review:
AGOSTA – AGOSTA – SPACE ECHO RECORDS – SELP803