Banjo or Freakout: Banjo or Freakout

Photo by Robert Bellamy

Decisions, decisions. Banjo or Freakout? Umm. Banjo? Freakout? It's not exactly "Sophie's Choice" is it?

Banjo or Freakout

Banjo or Freakout

Label: Memphis Industries
US Release Date: 2011-03-08
UK Release Date: 2011-03-07
Artist Website

There are many fiendish crossroads we pass on our perilous journey from cradle to grave. Soul or gold. Death or glory. Love or lust. Health or hedonism. Beatles or Stones. Moore or Connery. To this illustrious list we can now add 'Banjo or Freakout'. Yes, London-based Italian Alessio Natalizia offers us fresh dilemmas in the form of this debut long player. Which will you choose, the fragile teary melodies and buck-toothed simplicity of the mighty Mr. Banjo or the acid-fried, devil-horned allure of Sir Freakout himself? Ladies and gentlemen press your buzzers now...

It appears Mr. Natalizia shares your chin-stroking conundrum. Banjo or Freakout does indeed precariously ride that rickety ol' fence that separates those great plains of timeless melody and gonzoid space rock... and yes, there will be splinters in painful places. In Camp 'Banjo', we have a high fivin' fondness for '50s and '60s pop melody. "Move Out" could've shared a microphone with Elvis in Sun Studios in the summer of '56. It's all lonesome croonin', jagged echoes, and vinyl quiffs with a splash of swinging doo-wop drums. As with most of Banjo or Freakout, it's bid adieu with some gorgeous synth waves as its tailights fade. "Idiot Rain" meanwhile serenades like Elliot Smith doing his party-piece Lennon impersonation. That same multi-tracked voice; warm, melodic, intimate sweeping across a divine, delicately spiralling guitar riff. It's a ballroom waltz for the working class hero and shows Alessio has a canny ear for melody and potential future as a pop tart should he so desire.

There's definitely more 'Banjo' than 'Freakout'. "Go Ahead" is basically a stoner remake of Blur's "Coffee & TV". "Coffee & TV...& Bongwater & Flying Saucers" if you will. A nodding dog bassline and some "Woah dude" space guitar licks give it some neon. Yup, Banjo or Freakout is definitely best enjoyed at night or stoned, or both. The woozy "105" answers the door in sunglasses and a dressing gown and the mood of the day is 'Hello Mellow'. Its cheery lullaby loops float like a happy 'n' hazy Dinosaur Jr. with Natalizia mumbling about "Seriously thinking of going to sleep". I'm no detective, but this whole scene screams "Drinking in the daytime, phoning in sick tomorrow, permanent vacation".

There are moments where both 'Banjo' and 'Freakout' collide, and frankly, make sweeeet love. The groove in the heart of "Can't Be Mad for Nothing" feels like New Order walkin' after midnight. A throbbing one-finger horror synth line which jogs into a full sprint before it vanishes into the abyss. A minute-too long perhaps, but a real trip nonetheless. "Dear Me" meanwhile stands resplendent in leather pants, casually bouncin' a tambourine off its hip, workin' up a hypnotic narcoleptic swagger worthy of the Dandy Warhols or the great Dionysian himself Jim Morrison. Add a lava lamp and a slideshow of melting flowers and it's viva 1967, baby. Sadly, though, it doesn't quite deliver the big bang climax. It fades too passively into dying embers, and you're left anxiously hanging for the orgasmic firework apocalyspe that never comes. Its potential is tarnished by Natalizia's penchant for messing about with 'sound collages' and pushing those darn "Space Noise #1 - 100" selections.

All this seat swapping doesn't always make for a comfortable ride. Some of the worst offenders here feel like demos and, damn, they are tough to endure. The folky pagan shenanigans of "Fully Enjoy" are baffling. It's the sort of trippy dribblings that Charles Manson probably still hears in his head and commands him to dance like a goon. Just say no kids. The grim "From Everyone Above" is what inspires people in asylums to decorate their cell walls with their own poo, whilst the droning "I Don't Want to Start All Over Again" is basically someone finishing their album superfast because it's, like, so waaaay past bedtime. Natalizia's thin voice isn't the greatest either, and whilst this isn't always a deal breaker, grumbling confessionals like "My mother kept comin' in and putting her nose in the air" do prompt you to start inventing convincing excuses to get you the hell outta Dodge, pronto Tonto.

So over to you, people of Earth. Banjo or Freakout await your vote. Natalizia clearly hears opposing voices in his head. Some of them guide him to pen classic pop. This is good. Bravo! Others tell him to throw the TV out of the window and go batshit nuts. This is also good -- chaos can ignite a glorious molotov. But a good third of Banjo or Freakout is, in all honesty, doodling and fannying about. Call it tough love, but right now I'm calling cabs for both Mr Banjo and Sir Freakout. I want you to both go home and have a good, long, hard think about who, or what, you really want to be when you grow up.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.