Various Artists: Italians Do It Better
After Dark 2
Styles: italo disco, synthpop
Others: Valerie, Rosso Corsa
Anyone who’s watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch will be familiar with the popularizing of Aristophanes’ myth of the origin of love. Not so much Italians, then, as Mediterraneans do it better. And we’ve been waiting a long time — After Dark 2 was itself starting to seem mythological. So I know you think you know this one, but let’s do a (logically inevitable) eternal return to that myth, to test empirically Aristophanes’ paradigm: does the arising of a 2nd make us feel whole? Is it true that, as Farah puts it here on “Into Eternity,” “I am made in God’s image/ I was born only half a body”?
Aristophanes theorized that there were originally three types of creatures: male, female, and androgynous. The queer arises at the split leading to the desire-for-the-same of those who were our an-cis-tors. But there’s something polymorphously perverse about the whole theory, no? Heterosexuality spawned precisely by androgyny? Disco, and italo disco, has always had a certain queerness to it — one which made it loathed and threatened — but according to Aristophanes, the creatures that became straight couples were descended from the moon. After dark, love is exactly as it’s depicted in mainstream culture. The road along which Cupid and Psyche drive is straight, the tropes of romance familiar, the smooth bitumen a paean to civilization. But familiarity need not breed contempt, even if we’re just about at that seven-year itch since we first met After Dark. Freud protested a little too much at Eros’s pansexuality, and it’s the beats themselves, a sashay of the hips never over-enthusiastic enough to spill a lurid neon cocktail poised elegantly in one hand, which cherrify the proceedings.
Speaking of minority group politics, some of the standouts on this volume are those that move us further from IDIB’s flagship acts — in particular, Mirage’s vocodered “Let’s Kiss” and Farah’s “Into Eternity.” The latter is a paradigmatic example of her perfect, deeper-than-it-seems Valley Girl philosophizing — even if we’re still waiting on an official album, or an other-than-YouTube release of masterpieces like “Die.” Some of these tunes date back to the earliest days of Italians — a new mix of Appaloosa’s “Intimate,” dialing back the insistent dancefloor beats and foregrounding the Nico-esque qualities of the vocals — but they’re none the worse for that. Meanwhile, Glass Candy’s “The Possessed” discotizes The Cure and Siouxsie, with its sweet foregrounded instrumental lines and its references to “the happy house nightly… through the looking glass darkly.” Chromatics’ “Cherry,” the highlight of the tracks by better-known IDIB stalwarts, is a melancholy, yearning lament, a pitch-shifted inner howl-at-the-moon of resignation. Not so much a cherry bomb as a redhead singing the blues.
And like blues, the disco formula works — it’s both beautiful and timeless (well, timeless since the late 70s). But it doesn’t always feel as fresh as it once did — paradoxically, given the heavy-lidded sensibility the music embodies. Bed-headed in the early pre-dawn… and the album ends with Glass Candy’s “Redheads Feel More Pain.” Did I mention eternal return? What is the “flame-haired temptress” if not an embodiment of the desire for union, for synthesis?
01. Glass Candy - Warm in the Winter
02. Desire - Tears From Heaven
03. Mirage - Let’s Kiss
04. Appaloosa - Fill the Blanks
05. Chromatics - Looking For Love
06. SYMMETRY - Heart of Darkness
07. Chromatics - Camera
08. Twisted Wires - Half Lives
09. Glass Candy - The Possessed
10. Chromatics - Cherry
11. Glass Candy - Beautiful Object
12. Farah - Into Eternity
13. Appaloosa - Intimate
14. Mike Simonetti - The Magician
15. Glass Candy - Redheads Feel More Pain