Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Fabiana Palladino Fabiana Palladino

XL/Paul Institute
XL/Paul Institute

They don’t make pop music like this anymore.

The average modern pop blockbuster holds its weight in scale alone, relying on the size of its audience rather than master craftsmanship. In the quest for online relatability, pop has lost its identity. The genre is no longer bigger than life. It’s all name value and the laurels of familiarity, leaning on famous personas with recognizable source material. When mainstream pop peddles vague nostalgia, you’re left with Leonardo DiCaprio finger-pointing moments and records people promptly discard after a couple of weeks. The genre is missing both its old grandeur and the sense of artistry that once made it such a vital creative pursuit.

In an environment dominated by over-obvious samples and lyrics that require scholarly investment in an artist’s backstory, that feel more like extensions of a social media presence than the main event, it’s no wonder some people feel like pop is dead. There is a subtle unrest among those of us longing for the pop superstardom as it was practiced during the peak of the music industry’s powers. So much pop music is feverishly yearning for a sense of intentionality behind its creation. This is what makes Fabiana Palladino so refreshing.

With her self-titled debut album for the Paul Institute, the singer and producer establishes herself as one of the most intricate artists working in music today. The album pulls off a tight balancing act between the grandiosity of a major pop event that could be a prominent fixture in the cultural ether and the dense musical knottiness that captures the minds of countless music nerds. Palladino is a student of the game with a keen understanding of how to translate an expansive artistic vision into an album that can resonate with millions.

Those strong sensibilities add up given Palladino’s rich familial history in music. Her father Pino Palladino is one of the industry’s journeyed and accomplished session musicians, from thick, treacly basslines for Erykah Badu (Mama’s Gun) and D’Angelo (Voodoo, Black Messiah) to numerous credits on Eric Clapton and John Mayer albums. The same kind of musicality is evident in Fabiana’s knack for texture and layering. Take “Can You Look In The Mirror,” where synth keys and slick piano chords are flashing lights accenting an elastic bassline. Palladino effortlessly conjures up Janet Jackson-isms in meticulously thought-out harmonies and their placement. You can hear all the time she’s spent studying engineers and studio musicians tirelessly tinkering with sound.

What makes Fabiana Palladino such a triumph is that its huge scope and delicate touch are deployed not as ends unto themselves but as tools for thematic poignancy and tonal highlighting. “Stay With Me Through The Night” is the strongest example of this, where the classy piano chords stand proudly and prominently alongside funky bass plunks. It’s impressive how she navigates the retro color grading of funk without being redundant or solely derivative of stronger records of the past. It helps that Fabiana is such an elegant performer. Her voice is deeply intimate here, like whispers in the ear on the dancefloor. As much as she tosses and turns in uncertainty throughout the lyrics, she’s firm and assertive as a singer — so magnetic that her request for “one more try,” her pleading for you to stay, feels ultimately rhetorical. It’d be foolish not to stay.

Palladino is a disciple of notorious perfectionist Jai Paul, who worked with her on early singles “Mystery,” “Shimmer,” and “Waiting.” Fabiana Palladino demonstrates the two artists’ shared artistic flourishes, their drive to achieve the fullest capacity of their art. A single like “Str8 Outta Mumbai,” the only song Paul felt empowered to call truly complete out of his collection of leaked records, is a rollercoaster for the senses. Even records labeled as demos like “Jasmine” are so meticulously layered. It’s a fascinating textural experience, how his hushed croons sparkle upon the grainy backdrop, intermittently pierced by sharp claps.

Their creative unity is on display on “I Care,” the duet released last year that sits at the center of the Fabiana Palladino tracklist. For a fairly minimal ballad, it introduces a bountiful amount of color. The fiery synths give way to a lot of warm intimacy, while Palladino and Paul’s vocal layering lends a magical glowing effect to the romance at its core. It’s as if the love and nurturing they have for one another illuminates amidst the dark storm of uncertainty that simmers in the back of their minds. “I Care” exemplifies qualities that make the whole album such a beautiful listen. It’s not about musical correctness or some contrived belief that they need to elevate genre. It’s about creating art with a tangible sense of purpose, massaged and manicured to the brink of perfection.

Palladino does all of this without a sense of dismissiveness toward traditional pop structure. Because of the production’s intricately designed architecture, a listener might mistake this for a scholarly form of pop, as music that only the sophisticated avid listener can engage with. This isn’t the case. Palladino’s songwriting plays out in traditional terms, be it her flustered confusion on “Give Me A Sign” or the way she unpacks relationships on records like “Forever.” Complex narratives and cryptic metaphors are left at the door. She communicates directly, and the album is a lot punchier for it.

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In this same breath, she often uses the marriage of dense musicality and universal songwriting to elevate her influences and reference points — a nuanced way to nod to music history without resorting to hitting listeners over the head with an interpolation. The album’s closer “Forever” has a lot of Kate Bush’s DNA. The swelling arrangements and the deliberate layering of her harmonies recalls a lot of the best material on Hounds Of Love. “Shoulda” plays as Dirty Mind-era Prince pastiche: the vocal breathiness and tempo, the twangy guitar licks, the subtle interplay between the bells and the drums. But rather than rely on the merits of “When You Were Mine,” Palladino tweaks the musical architecture with a bridge, breathing regret and heartbreak into her song versus Prince’s deranged yearning.

In a just world, Fabiana Palladino would live on as one of this year’s essential releases in mainstream pop music. If that happens, it will be because of how Palladino’s debut stands out from the modern pop landscape, not how it fits in. The greatest lesson we could glean from this album is that a lavish budget can’t purchase great art. Palladino’s studious approach to pop isn’t solely coming from a place of ravenous historical devouring or an incessant desire to make music “the right way.” It’s the pureness in which she engages with the past and translates it to her own perspective that gives the music its power. Listen closely enough and you might even discover modern pop music regaining its pulse.

Fabiana Palladino is out 4/5 on XL/Paul Institute.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Vampire Weekend’s Only God Was Above Us
• The Black Keys’ Ohio Players
• Kehlani’s After Hours
• Mount Kimbie’s The Sunset Violent
• The Libertines’ All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade
• Phosphorescent’s Revelator
• Conan Gray’s FOUND HEAVEN
• Jane Weaver’s Love In Constant Spectacle
• Injury Reserve member RiTchie’s Triple Digits [112]
• Joseph Shabason, Nicholas Krgovich, & M. Sage’s Shabason, Krgovich, Sage
• Lala Lala leader Lillie West’s if i were a real man i would be able to break the neck of a suffering bird
• Vegyn’s The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions
• Vessel’s Wrapped In Cellophane
• Old 97’s’ American Primitive
• Pernice Brothers’ Who Will You Believe
• Sinkane’s We Belong
• Caleb Landry Jones’ Hey Gary, Hey Dawn
• Cock Sparrer’s Hand In Heart
• Parquet Courts offshoot Maxband’s Maxband On Ice
• Dana Gavanski’s LATE SLAP
• Oliver Anthony’s Hymnal Of A Troubled Man’s Mind
• Still Corners’ Dream Talk
• Bnny’s One Million Love Songs
• Bob Vylan’s Humble As The Sun
• X Ambassadors’ Townie
• The Reds, Pinks & Purples’ Unwishing Well
• Tori Kelly’s TORI.
• Beatenberg’s The Great Fire Of Beatenberg
• Feeder’s Black/Red
• Flung’s All Heartbeat
• Lo Moon’s I Wish You Way More Than Luck
• Einstürzende Neubauten – Rampen – apm: alien pop music
• The Amplifier Heads’ Songs From They Came To Rock
• Ingested’s The Tide Of Death And Fractured Dreams
• Puzzled Panther’s Puzzled Panther
• Concrete Boys’ It’s Us Volume 1
• Blacktop Mojo’s Pollen
• Katie Pruitt’s Mantras
• Cuffed Up’s All You Got
• Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams’ All This Time
• Olin Janusz’s Please Leave Quietly
• Strung Out’s Dead Rebellion
• Drahla’s angeltape
• The KVB’s Tremors
• Palace’s Ultrasound
• Grace Cummings’ Ramona
• Josh Johnson’s Unusual Object
• Guests’ Arrangements, As In Making Them
• Locrain’s End Terrain
• Valebol’s Valebol
• Marcus King’s Mood Swings
• Lizzy McAlpine’s Older
• Varg2TM’s Nordic Flora Series, Pt.6: Outlaw Music
• Melissa Aldana’s Echoes Of The Inner Prophet
• The Bygones’ The Bygones
• Witch Vomit’s Funeral Sanctum
• Michelle Moeller’s Late Morning
• Iron Monkey’s Spleen & Goad
• Bayside’s There Are Worse Things Than Being Alive
• Medium Build’s Country
• Last Dinosaurs’ KYO
• Mike Post’s Message From The Mountains & Echoes Of The Delta
• Novo Amor’s Collapse List
• Yellow Days’ HOTEL HEAVEN
• Maggie Rose’s No One Gets Out Alive
• Outside World’s Outside World 3
• Funeral Leech’s The Illusion Of Time
• FILTH’s Southern Hostility
• Pedal Steel Noah’s The Texas Madness EP
• Motel Breakfast’s I Promise I’m Having Fun
• Patrick Jasper’s Loreto
• Annie-Claude Deschênes’ LES MANIÈRES DE TABLE
• Paralandra’s The Body Electric
• The tribute compilation James Toth Presents… Imaginational Anthem Vol. XIII – Songs Of Bruce Cockburn
Under The Bridge 2, a compilation featuring new music from Sarah Records alumni
• The Justice Democrats benefit compilation So Many Things At Once
• The Drums’ Jonny (Deluxe)
• FACS’ Maggot Brain 020324 live album
• Woods’ Five More Flowers EP
• Sam Hunt’s Locked Up EP
• TOPS singer Jane Penny’s Surfacing EP
• Mei Semones’ Kabutomushi EP
• Wisp’s Pandora EP
• Cosmo Pyke’s Low EP
• BALTA’s Mindenki Mindig Minden Ellen EP
• Um, Jennifer?’s The Girl Class EP
• Bad Tuner’s look at me but through me EP

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