In plain simple terms you can consider Italian composer Federico Albanese’s debut composer album is the second coming of Ludovico Einaudi or a modern day Erik Satie. Both composers have a penchant for the easily digestible, cinematic feel but where Albanese strays from being “too commercial” is more in his decisions to go in a facet of directions with a more complex “raindrop” pace yet minimalist approach. The repetitious piano keys that Albanese shows a liking to in many of his pieces will easily draw comparisons to those from Einaudi but he ups the ante to more sublime atmospheres with sporadic audibles, that while somehow are seemingly predictable because of their opportune timing, are still clearly a result of successful experimentation.
The Houseboat and the Moon is a very subdued record with only a few pieces that are speedy and passively-aggressive. But the soft touch and withheld aura that Albanese keeps on the majority of the 13 tracks are romanticized and grief-stricken without the compromise of cheeky and cliche notes that you’d expect from more movie-styled composers. The originality that ultimately separates The Houseboat and the Moon from similar more cinematic-like records is in its portrayal of acceptance rather than a yearning for comprehension and thought. Whether by design or eventual result, Albanese’s composer debut record is full of emotion but its emotion that is pre-determined for the listener to accept and not challenge or even…think. The Houseboat and the Moon goes along the lines of “you’ll be sad here,” “you’ll be nostalgic here,” “you’ll be tense here” but never in the light of your decision – Albanese guides the path the whole way with a confident statement record; the listener simply just follows.
The blueprint behind that structures The Houseboat and the Moon is a strong overall, focusing more on predictable patterns intermixed with slight string and electronic variations, particularly shining in the first seven pieces. While as described earlier that Albanese predetermines the story for The Houseboat and the Moon, each of the tracks are varied in controlled emotional output but are chained through a distinct enslaved pace. That cohesive tone, while slow and steady, is what keeps the listenability of the record fluid and a brisk walkthrough from beginning to the end.
Out of the gate, Albanese presents his strong piece – “Beyond the Milk Wood,” a very raindrop heavy, borderline drone-track, full of melancholy and somewhat bitter happiness. The track is very reminiscent of mid-90s Smashing Pumpkins instrumental intros, specifically “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness.” It represents a life moment you can almost taste…or will taste. Albanese’s cinematic background is at its finest on “Beyond the Milk Wood,” harkening a love-at-first-sight or “see your future” feel. If you could choose the music to your own memorial, “Beyond the Milk Wood” is how’d you want to go out.
The very alt-minimalist piece “Queen and Wonder” will very much please fans of old-school Olafur Arnalds and the more recent works of Nils Frahm. So too will neo-classical lovers gravitate toward “Secret Room” where Albanese gently experiments with more electronic sounds but reluctantly (and thankfully) avoids overkill.
There is no doubt an honest candor and innocence to The Houseboat and The Moon. On tracks such as “Beside You,” “Carousel 1,” “Disclosed” there’s a shared toy-feel but the aura is great and effective. Despite being the new kid on the block, Albanese already shows he is a stud when it comes to crafting nostalgia, but his more repetitious, minimalist approach to such pieces prevent them from becoming tacky or too mainstream.
The more grayish mood pieces “Kato” and “The Sudden Sympathy” and darker sets such as “Sphere” and “Lichtung” may get somewhat lost in the shuffle of The Houseboat and The Moon’s restrained pacing but are nonetheless easy listens that would arguably stand out better on lesser-tense LPs. Albanese seldom relies on the support of solemn strings to capture most of the downturn emotion, opting more for a contradictory light-hearted repetition of a few piano keys. Whereas opposed to the four more somber sets, the relatively higher-energy level “Double Vision” arguably stands out a bit more than necessary but never comes off as out of place.
Albanese’s composer debut may not be the record staunch classical listeners will appease to with its halfway-indie, halfway-commercial like-ability. At times, the too-comforting level can be at times offsetting to those stiff with such straightforward listens, which without the tempo shift from midway piece “Double Vision” could have resulted in too much of a hesitant vibe. The subdued pacing for the majority of the record requires a more calm state of mind than most be willing to offer, but for those who enjoy listening to Clair de lune-like sets nonstop, Albanese’s composer debut record provides enough variety and unifying themes that ensure there won’t be any eventual weariness or boredom. There’s a sense of yonder that you get out of Albanese’s composer debut album – something that’s been missing all along and while you don’t have it, you can see it. You can feel it – everything is just right. The Houseboat and The Moon can’t be considered an ambient record but its as close as it can get from a contemporary classical angle. In the end Federico Albanese’s The Houseboat and the Moon is a perfect example of how you can express so much while staying at a minimal energy level – pure gold.
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