If Codeine and King Krule teamed up for an album of Britpop covers, the end result would probably sound a lot like the music of bar italia. Based on even a cursory spin, it immediately seems fitting that the band shares its name with the title of the closing track on Pulp’s 1995 album Different Class. When the UK trio unassumingly wandered onto the scene in 2020, it didn’t take long for them to make their way to the front of a sphere of artists including untitled halo, Mark William Lewis, and Organ Tapes. bar italia mysteriously strip slowcore and shoegaze to their roots, serving up stark music that mirrors the tenuousness of our times in the process.
bar italia is made up of Nina Cristante, Jezmi Tarik Fehmi, and Sam Fenton, all of whom operate adjacent to an arty universe that’s sprung up around the likes of Vegyn and Dean Blunt. The band initially started putting out singles and EPs on Blunt’s own WORLD MUSIC imprint, which tends to back zonked-out hip hop and vaporwave-ish electronic music. Rome-born Cristinate is a particularly notable presence in that realm of aloof oddballs. Since 2019, she’s amassed a handful of bleary avant-bedroom releases under the simple moniker NINA, which are approachable, but nonetheless very wonky. When I saw her open for Blunt at one of his rare live performances in Los Angeles last year, Cristante’s set that night was slipshod and bizarre. Unfortunately, her few existing interviews don’t help decipher much about her background or the motivations that fuel her — they’re largely centered on abstract philosophies surrounding nutrition and wellness.
Fehmi and Fenton – who are also members of fuzz rock act Double Virgo (which has put out music on Vegyn’s label PLZ Make It Ruins) – have found ways to coax out a comparably straightforward side of Cristante’s sound. With bar italia, the crew seems far-less-fixated on making listeners scratch their heads; if anything, their work in tandem is uncharacteristically categorizable (but still endearingly weird). Early standouts from the band like “Mariana Trenchrock” and the stellar “Polly Armor” evoke the outcome of a ’90s slacker group recording straight into a yellowing, gunk-clogged tape machine. bar italia’s full-length debut, Tracey Denim, doesn’t do much to eschew the sonic minimalism. Nonetheless, the LP is so effortlessly commanding that it’s landed the band a deal with Matador Records and coveted festival dates at spots like Primavera and End Of The Road — massive moves, which are inching the crew closer towards the foreground of the contemporary indie rock canon.
One might be tempted to lump bar italia in with the trendy post-punk wave that has been booming on the other side of the pond for a few years now. And Tracey Denim certainly has its fair share of tracks that bask in gloomy spunk. “F.O.B.” is carried by rough-hewn, talky vocals that sound like they were laid to tape more-than-a-few pints deep. “changer” is motorik and kraut-y, until it gives way to a bridge that harkens back to a mournful strain of ’00s radio rock. “Missus Morality” is so boisterous that it could practically pass for a long lost karaoke anthem, while “punkt” is barren and surfy. “I just want to lose control,” Cristante sings over wiry riffing on the chorus of the latter cut.
In spite of the mopey angst that cloaks much of Tracey Denim, the album contains multitudes. Opener “guard” is whimsically airy, like the score to a country drive sequence from some twee art film. “yes i have eaten so many lemons yes i am so bitte” is swaggering and trip-hoppy, with its funky bassline and shuffling groove. “maddington” ends the record on a note of baroque optimism, thanks to swirling major chords and synthetic violin flourishes. Even “Clark,” which has all the trappings of the signature bar italia formula, subverts familiarity by employing blue-skied aural textures.
My favorite song on Tracey Denim is “Nurse!” The track initially struck me as a slice of carefree lofi pop, but spending time with it ultimately helped pinpoint the deceptive nuance that undergirds Tracey Denim. Cristante’s vocals in the verses are mousey and shy. Yet things switch up right as the first chorus rolls around, when alt rock-y strumming pushes things into terrain that feels strangely indebted to Silversun Pickups. “A mask covered your eyes/ And you move like crazy to your favorite song/ You said, ‘I’m coming alive’/ Haven’t felt this way since you were 21,” Fenton repeats on the track’s haunting refrain. Listening passively, it might sound like the song was written, recorded, and sent off to mastering in a hurry. However, “Nurse!” reinforces that bar italia are actually able to thrive with this unpolished aesthetic because their music has so little to prove.
There’s only so much one can say about a band that doesn’t want to say much about itself. Like Blunt before them, bar italia have learned to masterfully employ an off-kilter spirit as a way to cultivate allure. It’s easy to imagine the band wandering back into the ether as easily as they emerged from it, never to be heard from again. bar italia don’t seem to crave the attention that has been thrust upon them, which makes it a wonderful mystery how they even got to this lucky position at all. And it’s this very lackadaisical quality that makes the act so intriguing. “Loads of people have been telling me it’s hard to tell what’s going on. I don’t do it deliberately,” Cristante told Sex Magazine in an elusive 2017 interview. With this in mind, it becomes clear that – in order to make sense of bar italia – one has to embrace the fact that its members aren’t really worried about making sense to themselves. It all comes down to getting lost in Tracey Denim’s wonderfully understated racket.
Tracey Denim is out 5/19 on Matador.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Paul Simon’s Seven Psalms
• Mandy, Indiana’s i’ve seen a way
• Kesha’s Gag Order
• Katranada and Aminé’s self-titled debut album as Kaytraminé
• Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres, & Conor Hanick’s Reflections
• Brandy Clark’s Brandy Clark
• Graham Nash’s Now
• Horse Jumper Of Love’s Heartbreak Rules
• Alex Lahey’s The Answer Is Always Yes
• Gumm’s Slogan Machine
• Lewis Capaldi’s Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent
• PONY’s Velveteen
• Paper Bee’s Thaw, Freeze, Thaw
• Garden Centre’s Searching For A Stream
• Yes’ Mirror To The Sky
• Foyer Red’s Yarn The Hours Away
• Hannah Jadagu’s Aperture
• The Murlocs’ Calm Ya Farm
• Dave Matthews Band’s Walk Around The Moon
• Tinariwen’s Amatssou
• Tanlines’ The Big Mess
• Andy Bell & Masal’s Tidal Love Numbers
• Califone’s villagers
• Mindwar’s Still At War
• Spirit Award’s The Fear
• Temps’ guest-heavy PARTY GATOR PURGATORY
• shy martin – late night thoughts
• Frozen Soul’s Glacial Domination
• Sir Chloe’s I Am The Dog
• The Used’s Toxic Positivity
• The Milk Carton Kids’ I Only See The Moon
• Galen & Paul’s Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day?
• Setting Sun’s Feelings Cure
• Eyes Of Others’ Eyes Of Others
• Paul Simonon & Galen Ayers’ Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day?
• Sweet & Lynch – Heart & Sacrifice
• Matt Espy’s Hawksworth
• La Femme’s Paris-Hawaï
• Belly’s Mumble Rap 2
• Whu Else’s Big Brain Man II
• Dave McMurray’s Grateful Deadication 2
• Elder Jack Ward’s The Storm
• Low Praise’s DRESSING
• Stella Rose’s Eyes Of Glass
• Joe Perry’s Sweetzerland Manifesto MKII
• Khruangbin & Friends’ Live At Stubb’s
• Charlie Parker’s Bird In LA
• The The Little Mermaid Original Soundtrack
• Def Leppard & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Drastic Symphonies
• The Wedding Present’s singles compilation 24 Songs
• The Lemonheads’ Come On Feel (30th Anniversary Edition)
• Moor Mother’s Jazz Codes (Deluxe Edition)
• Pernice Brothers’ Overcome By Happiness: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
• Summer Walker’s Clear 2: Soft Life EP
• Ghost’s PHANTOMIME covers EP
• Quickly, Quickly’s Easy Listening EP
• HotWax’s A Thousand Times EP
• Blawan’s Dismantled Into Juice EP