Elisa Ambrogio – The Immoralist (4 stars)

'One of the hands-down best albums of 2014'

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Elisa Ambrogio – The Immortalist

(Drag City)

Now bear with me here … During an interview in The Promise (the 2010 documentary on the making of his Darkness on the Edge of Town album), Bruce Springsteen is momentarily stumped while trying to describe the sheer hugeness of sound that he envisions for his songs when they’re first forming in his head, before he even attempts the painstaking process of erecting his sonic skyscrapers with the rest of the E Street Band. Elisa Ambrogio seems to have achieved a similar hallucinatory monumentality on The Immoralist, her debut solo album for Drag City

As incompanionable as they might first seem, there is something gloriously, indefatigably American in both Springsteen and Ambrogio’s music. But instead of that gigantic gated-snare drum (as reliable a signifier of the 1980s as images of gel-haired yuppies sproffing into bible-sized mobile phones against a backdrop of clacking share price fluctuations), Ambrogio (also the singer in Connecticut’s underground rock trio, Magik Markers) opts for desolate rumbles of floor tom and roughly bowed cello to underpin her paeans to the fag-end of the empire. This is unnervingly rendered on ‘Kylie’ – a frost-kissed wasteland of a song with fragmented piano buttressing forlorn guitar solo’s and Ambrogio’s oracular, half-sung vocals about ‘the substance expanding to fill the space’.

While there is an impressive tonal unity to The Immoralist (which brings to mind the defiant frailty of Nikki Sudden’s reverb-soused narcotic-pop), there is also a range to the songwriting which is both adventurous and assured. On ‘Clarinet Queen’ Ambrogio pitches monochordal guitar over leaden drums and hushed vocals, like Kim Gordon on quaaludes. ‘Far From Home’ is a gorgeous, impressionistic piece that dissolves into the kind of coruscating feedback that the guitarist is more readily associated with. Despite being one of underground rock’s most unique and formidable axe-wielders, The Immoralist starts with a vapour-trailing ‘ohm’ vocal which grows into a double-tracked / unison singing style that is one of the albums most distinct features. It’s a familiar technique, but here it produces the profoundly disorienting effect of sounding simultaneously quiet /  intimate and extremely close / loud. It is one of the many uncanny achievements on what is one of the hands-down best albums of 2014.

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