eople don’t often talk about it, but one of the attractive things about music (or other art forms and media) is that it originates in a particular geographical location and listening to it transports you to whatever perception you have of these places in your mind. So if you like Italy, it’s great that Jennifer Gentle are the first Italian indie rock group to make any real inroads in the U.S. (they’re from Padova, near Venice). That is, if you’ve heard of it (or remember it)—their new album Valende, which has been out since January, seemed to have a decent initial reception, but hasn’t maintained much of a buzz.
Their upcoming U.S. tour could conceivably change that, but you have to wonder to what extent any psychedelic group with real postmodern retro-isms can possibly break out much at this point in time, even if they just got signed to Sub Pop and even if they’re really unique and good. Psychedelic retro-isms are just not as in vogue as new wave retro-isms, for one thing. A group like the Fiery Furnaces can catch on by making Elephant 6 style psychedelia something less psychedelic, but Jennifer Gentle come along, swing the pendulum back in the other direction, and no one is there to notice (or care much) except for the psych heads.
Their retro-isms basically involve four modes of operation. One is Syd Barrett Mode, and I am pleased to report that they do this properly by using the “Terrapin” rhythm and the odd combinations of all major chords (as in “Terrapin,” “Baby Lemonade,” etc.), plus one of the songs has a “Jugband Blues”-esque kazoo solo and singer Marco Fasolo’s voice is as weird-o sounding as Pip Proud’s! (It should be noted, given the lack of clarity on this matter in other reviews of this album, that the only tape speed manipulations on Marco’s voice are at the end of the song “Nothing Makes Sense.” Everything else is his natural voice.)
The second mode heard on this album is a retro freakbeat mode crossed with an English D.I.Y. punk sound (‘60s guitar and organ tones, plus Teenage Jesus snare drum). Of the two songs in this mode, “I Do Dream You” is, honestly, a classic on par with the Desperate Bicycles’ “Smokescreen,” while “Nothing Makes Sense” is so twee and so wacky that it’s reminiscent of nothing short of Marc Wirtz’s obscure psychedelic novelty music record “He’s Our Dear Old Weatherman” (as heard on one of the Rubble volumes).
Elsewhere, they do some of these lengthy finger picked acoustic psych-folk tracks with quietly articulated vocals (and chirping bird sounds on one) that are popular now, but their songs in this mode are genuinely compelling as compositions. The vocal parts in "The Garden" are evocative of Hosianna Mantra-era Popol Vuh, and "Liquid Coffee" is worthy of the Japanese group Ghost. They also play bowed guitar in a way that sounds pleasingly like the Incredible String Band’s bowed gimbri.
Mode number four is the free-form freakout mode heard on the track “Hessesopoa,” and they even do that well! Obviously, all of this is covering a lot of territory over a ten track, 45 minute CD. Unlike a lot of neo-psychedelic artists, Jennifer Gentle are aware of the fact that psychedelic music used to have a lot to do with compelling juxtapositions of tracks and variety on albums. Valende is really a more significant album than a lot of people seem to be giving it credit for being, and one hopes that it will be remembered as such.