By Samuel Peirce
Artist: Daniele Luppi / Parquet Courts
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: October 27, 2017
Daniele Luppi has already made a name for himself in the music world. The Italian composer has been a behind-the-scenes-brain, arranging for artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Gnarls Barkley (surely we all remember that 2005 hit “Crazy”). In 2011, Luppi collaborated with Danger Mouse to create Rome, a sprawling album which evoked the orchestral sound of a spaghetti western and featured guests Jack White and Norah Jones. MILANO, too, pays tribute to an era and city of Italy, only this time it’s mid-1980s Milan, and the special guests are post-punkers Parquet Courts and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O.
“Soul and Cigarette” starts off the album with a melodic acoustic guitar and glockenspiel intro. A few bars are played before the rest of the band joins in. “Albatross flying again after / twenty years in a cage” are the opening lyrics sung by Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage. This is seemingly a cryptic metaphor for something, possibly the Italian poet Alda Merini for which the song is dedicated to. This is the first of a couple tracks that are homages to Milanese artists. The sound is art punk with a literal emphasis on art. The song is also immediately ripe with the usual stylings of Parquet Courts; a simple chord progression backs Savage’s laconic delivery and poetic lyricism. It’s a languid yet steady tune, with an Americana flavor that would put it alongside others in the bands own repertoire like “Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth.”
“Memphis Blues Again” is an ode to the works of architect Ettore Sottsass. Sottsass founded the Memphis Group in the 1980s, an ensemble of like-minded furniture designers known for their eccentric asymmetrical style (see “Bel Air chair”) and having essentially created the entire 80s aesthetic (see “Saved by the Bell intro”). The song is sung from Sottsass’ point of view, Savage taking on the roll of a visionary who is unabashedly done with the then current trends of postmodern art. “Functionalism’s a bore / Modernism’s a chore” he says, calling out these ideas as blasé before championing his own animal-shaped household accessory with “This lamp looks like a bird / No you haven’t misheard.” It’s not unlike the humorous rants of the late Mark E. Smith, and in the same vein as the Fall, the song is mostly an unwavering, two-chord riff played repeatedly. It also recalls Wires’ “Three Girl Rhumba” in both rhythm and simplicity. This is another track where, aside from a few added embellishments (in this case, keyboard), it really could pass as solely a Parquet Courts song.
Karen O, meanwhile, brings some exuberance to the table. “Talisa” sees O become former model Talisa Soto, her pouty vocals perfectly embodying the glitz and glamour of a runway show environment. Adding to the vitality is the fast tempo of the song via the Courts’ punchy beat and the use of trumpets towards the end. “The Golden Ones” is another punkier track. It’s twangy guitar playing angularly between bouts of hard and fast power chords sounds a bit like a hardcore-inspired Sonic Youth. “You can take me and be in a better day / under the tongue and then slip away” is a blatant reference to drug use, the narrator apparently a conscious LSD tab urging you that she can solve all your problems. Again, O really makes this song. Her inflection is charismatic, slightly flirtatious, and, given the theme of the song, a bit deceiving.
Savage and O come together on “Pretty Prizes,” one of the standout tracks on the album. Savage sings the verses, O takes the chorus. The story tells of a thieving woman using sex as a means of getting into a man’s house so that she may steal his valuable items and run off. Thus, things quickly go awry for this guy. The chorus warns of “cats” like this, “pretty prizes wearing disguises” who have ulterior motives. The song has a melodic chorus and catchy verses throughout, as well as a plot, making it rather unique. Savage in particular even seems to sing a bit more this time, albeit slightly, and it’s a notable departure from his usual flatness. The small use of Italian isn’t shabby either.
MILANO is an interesting project. The idea of having songs sung from the various perspectives of fictional (and non-fictional) people is something that isn’t really seen a lot. Getting the right kind of artist to perform such a concept can be hit or miss. Luckily, Daniele Luppi was able to strike a balance between Parquet Courts’ musicianship and wit and Karen O’s high-energy presence. Both artists really ran with the ideas, giving the album as a whole more of their own style rather than showcasing any trademarks of Luppi’s. Overall, this combination feels like a perfect one and as a result, MILANO makes for a pretty entertaining album.