This EP, from an Italian band who refuse to be categorised in a single genre, was sent to me for review and it grew on me so quickly that it was a gimme to start out a week with. Métronhomme are from Macerata and I've listed them as fusion because they clearly cross over the boundary between prog rock and jazz at will and in either direction, but they don't remotely sound like, say, Brand X and there are a host of other sounds here. This trawls in new wave, new age, ambient, world, post-rock, seventies electronic rock and a whole host of experimental genres, not least glitch.
In fact, the opening track is deceptively nice. It's called Quarantine, because the entire seven track EP was recorded during quarantine for COVID-19, which hit Italy early and hard. The last event I attended in person was Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention on the first weekend of March and the featured musical guests, Poison Garden, were Italian.; many of us were worried about whether they'd be able to get home safely. This EP was recorded in March and April, with each of the four musicians in their own homes with whatever instruments were to hand, collaborating entirely via the internet. That's why all the drums are handheld.
Maybe the early quarantine in Italy enabled Métronhomme to adjust to this new way of life quickly. I enjoyed Quarantine, but it's so smooth that it slips right past us in as polite and inoffensive a way as possible. Every time I listen to it, I enjoy it but then it vanishes from me again, as if it's a soundtrack contribution whose only purpose is to accompany. Certainly, Métronhomme have composed that sort of material, for film, theatre, gaming, advertising, you name it.
However, no track on this EP is a mirror of any other. Come la Neve is most obviously different for the inclusion of vocals, which are calm and laid back, but there's a real melancholy in this song that surely speaks to the conditions under which it was written and recorded. The band say that this isn't meant to "speak directly of the lockdown" but that "it captures all the emotional charge" that the band felt "in such a peculiar moment." That rings especially true on Come la Neve, even if I don't understand a word of the vocals.
It's Di una Moneta che Cade where the EP really spoke to me. The opening pair of songs find their groove and wrap up quickly and, relatively to the rest of the album, simply. This third has a very different approach, being wildly progressive, full of dynamic play and constantly innovative. It's jazz to start with, soft but with an experimental edge, almost acoustic space rock. There's no real beat and the synths are extremely playful. Instruments join and leave, like this is a sort of ongoing conversation rather than a song, and those instruments aren't all traditional. Who's credited on fishtank? Then, a couple of minutes in, at the point the earlier songs were ending, this leaps into more traditional territory, with a strong sense of melody but a giallo soundtrack feel. It ends up rather like Brian Eno collaborating with Goblin.
And this experimentation keeps on building. The lively Supermarket somehow reminds of both Gary Numan and Coil, hardly a pair of influences I'd expect to cite at the same time. Arkè is like a Suzanne Ciani solo piano piece but decorated with electronic graffiti and samples. Il Rumore del Mare is 8-bit chiptune underneath alternative rock. This is the other song with vocals, but they're entirely unlike Come la Neve; I presume Tommaso Lambertucci sang one and Marco Poloni the other. La Città di K. is the purest instrumental jazz/prog, with Spanish sounding guitar, a mellow bass, haunting melodies on synths and perhaps wind instruments, and the latest in an impressive line of what are credited as "assorted percussions". Special kudos to Andrea Lazzaro Ghezzi for finding such fantastic ways to deal with not having all the drum equipment he's used to.
While the early two minute songs felt short, more fragments than completed pieces, the EP as a whole feels fleshed out and vibrant, yet it still wraps up in under twenty-five minutes. It's definitive proof that, while COVID-19 continues to ravage the globe and lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions can't yet be confined to the past, that doesn't have to quench the creative forces. I'd have enjoyed this EP in any circumstances but, knowing that it was written and recorded with no band member in the same place as any other, it shows the way for others who might be feeling stifled in these trying times. And, if that wasn't obvious enough, this is part one of a release that will be completed in traditional style when this crisis is over.