here is a sort of beauty contained in the Other. Taken as foreign and, by extension, exotic, the Other takes on a mystical aura that draws in groups of people seeking to be confused and awed. For the most part, Giardini Di Miro fulfilled the promise of the Other on their debut record, Rise and Fall of Academic Drifting. Posited as the Italian answer to Mogwai, their mostly instrumental post-rock was heralded as a cleaner and more expansive answer to the Scottish group’s penchant for the distorted guitar heroics that launched a thousand copies and few peers. While the comparisons are somewhat well founded (they wouldn’t be made otherwise), they still didn’t adequately describe the band.
Now, with their second full length released in the United States, the difference between the two has become obvious: Giardini Di Miro is what the Mogwai of Rock Action and Happy Songs for Happy People wants to be. The significant changes that have made this gulf apparent are the addition of vocalists (Alessandro Raina and Kaye Brewster) on a majority of the tracks, a sense of tasteful experimentation that supplements rather than supersedes, and a lack of reliance on the typical post-rock song structure. These elements each working in balance with the striking songwriting that has already been a trademark of the group, shows Punk...Not Diet to be one of the best pop records released in 2003.
Much of the immediate change and success of the record, though, can be attributed to how well Raina’s vocals merge with the group’s instrumental backing. The first single, “Given Ground,” sees Raina almost unable to get the words out during the verses. Vainly keeping time with the steady bass and drum backing, he only relaxes and lets loose during the chorus. At this point, his voice is allowed to flow along with the fluid guitar lines, melting perfectly with the “ohhs” and “ahhs” of a female backing singer. In conforming to the classic pop song formation, the guitar solo still remains a surprising addition in its grandly majestic distortion. And, as any beautiful pop song should, it fades away gracefully, laying the listener down to sleep with a gentle ebb and flow outro.
“Connect the Machine...” follows and is an eight minute pop song. Without the benefit of any of the guest vocalists, the band is still able to construct a coherent story. The first four minutes builds to a slight crescendo. Here, the listener plays the waiting game, allowing the IDM-lite backing (provided throughout the album by a host of contributors: Styrofoam, Thaddi Hermann of Herrmann & Kleine, and Christophe Stoll) to supplement the guitar interplay, leading towards the midway point of the song, in which it takes a right turn towards a completely different point. All of the elements are there: ringing guitar, trumpet, drums, and bass; but now we are heading towards resolution. Masters of pacing, the group releases the song at the last possible moment.
“When You Were a Postcard” is the other lengthy narrative here. This time, though, there are no turns of phrase. The group goes through the verse chorus trope and comes out the other side unscathed with a beautifully measured gem of a song. It is in the final minutes of this song that the group earns its comparisons to the post-rock genre, riding every possible permutation of the same theme, finally ending it with a fading piano and violin duet.
As with any great narrative, the falling action feels like a slight letdown, taking in concert with the preceding activity. A lonely violin and piano play out the final three minutes of the record, augmented by a lazy bass drum. They move together, dancing a sad waltz of hope and depression. They move together, beautiful and alone. They move together, signaling the only possible end.