Bold Innovation and Collaboration
Daniele Luppi always surprises. The famed Italian composer is known for bringing together unlikely forces to create music of cinematic scope. His 2011 work with Danger Mouse, titled Rome, featured Jack White and Norah Jones. It was a star-studded effort to capture the grandeur of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western film scores.
Luppi’s latest full-length work Milano is a sort of follow-up concept album. It takes place in Milan in the ‘80s, a time Luppi remembers as burgeoning with flashy fashion and youth culture. The recruitment of Brooklyn rockers Parquet Courts was an inspired choice by Luppi to bring their punky edge to the songs, representing the alternative lifestyles found in the emerging youth. Along with the band, singer Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs contributes her brash vocals to a few of the most powerful tracks. Luppi explains that “The songs are fictionalized stories about misfits, fashionistas, outcasts and junkies in mid-1980s Milan. The city that is reborn every morning, that beats like a heart.”
Introduced to Luppi’s sonic vision on the first track “Soul and Cigarette,” we start to understand the characters and stories that are unfolding. Lead singer of Parquet Courts Andrew Savage gives a dry, monotone delivery as we find him walking through a cityscape feeling “like a pilgrim in a holy land.”
Karen O’s explosive vocals come on the track “Talisa,” inspired by model and actress Talisa Soto who was friends with Gianni Versace. In her most excitable state, she dances through a fantasy photo shoot. Luppi “wanted to capture the excitement, vibrancy and fast lane life of Milano,” and the song most certainly does, thanks to the raw energy of Parquet Courts’ gritty garage-rock. She returns on “Flush,” a punchy track with dissonant guitar riffing. Her distorted vocals mixed with her spine-tingling whispers, create a frenzied ambiance.
Parquet Courts channels Bob Dylan on “Memphis Blues Again.” It’s a little repetitive with its simple power chords and Savage’s lazy shouting and also somewhat out of place where the storyline is concerned.
Savage and O come together for a duet of sorts on “Pretty Prizes” where they illuminate a more seedy side to Milan. Over some upbeat, raucous instrumentation O sings a warning, “Beware of cats that follow you home / Of pretty prizes wearing disguises.” The most personality heard from Savage comes through on this track. It’s a fitting caricature, complete even with some phrases sung in Italian.
Luppi’s musical contributions can be heard with bright bells on “Mount Napoleon” and synths on “Lanza.” Each of his touches add some brightness and a breath of fresh air to what can be a sometimes claustrophobic soundtrack.
The crazy, instrumental trip that is the last track, “Cafe Flesh,” sums up what Luppi, Parquet Courts and Karen O came to do. Even in this freeform jazz experiment some individual musicianship truly stands out. The saxophone, in all it’s riffing glory, is an amazing, though unexpected way to fill out the track. It’s an appropriate tribute to the chaotic times of Milan’s heyday