Gianmarco Cilli Crafts a First-Rate, Understated Pop Gem with 'The Feel Is Now'
Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter, Gianmarco Cilli recruits impressive sidemen for a collection of diverse, beautifully executed indie pop/rock on The Feel Is Now.
The Feel Is Now
27 September 2019
There's something refreshingly unassuming about Gianmarco Cilli. No rock star poses, no over-the-top mission statement. The singer-songwriter out of Philadelphia looks like he could be a regular at your local coffee shop or maybe that guy you see walking his dog on your street most mornings. But hiding underneath that low-key persona is a shockingly good tunesmith who – with the help of a small but mighty collection of musicians – has created a warm, inviting album that combines rich melodies with arrangements that seem comforting but also contain plenty of unexpected edges.
On The Feel Is Now, Cilli brought in musicians who he's worked with on and off for the past 15 years. Drummer Charlie Hall and bassist Dave Hartley are best known as members of the War on Drugs, keyboard player Zach Miller is from Dr. Dog, and the album was engineered, mixed and co-produced by Nick Krill of the Spinto Band and Teen Men (Krill also contributes synths). Additionally, composer James Lavino adds string arrangements to a variety of tracks. It's a relatively small group, but their combined talents pack a punch.
"The Flood" is the opening track and first single. It's inspired in part by Zeitoun, Dave Eggers' nonfiction book about a New Orleans man who chose to ride out Hurricane Katrina. "I was waking up to the sounds of a flood," the song begins. "And I got up and started looking for you." Right away, the presence of the Hall/Hartley rhythm section becomes apparent. The driving, motorik beat that underpins so many great War on Drugs songs forms the spine of this wistful tune of hope in the face of tragedy. Lavino's strings add the perfect balance when paired up with Cilli's lead guitar squalls.
The relentless beat that runs through "The Flood" is also present in "With My Lord", which employs a sort of compact urgency that's reminiscent of a long-lost college radio single. It has that kind of warm, timeless feel. But the songs on The Feel Is Now contain enough variety to showcase Cilli's vast compositional gifts, as well as his knack for startling contrasts. "The Way in Out" is anchored by an almost dream-like sense of melody, but Cilli's distorted, in-your-face guitar licks provide the perfect balance. The loose, Americana stylings of "The Valley" include some delightful Lennon-esque vocal reverb and more of that upfront lead guitar that's somewhat "twanged up" to fit in with the song's loping quasi-country feel.
The Feel Is Now was certainly a long-gestating labor of love for Cilli, who wrote the songs over a few years and originally considered releasing the somewhat elaborate demos as the complete album. Eventually, he decided to record the songs with a band in a studio, "to try to bring these songs to another level", as he explains in the press release. It took three years to record the album, as life – parenthood and an unexpected hip replacement, among other things – got in the way. It would be interesting to hear the songs in demo form, but one can't help faulting Cilli for trusting his instincts and bringing musicians into a studio. The compositions are smart and have a classic pop structure, but the arrangements bring an additional striking dimension.
"Pull an Hour Wait" is a great example of a song that deftly incorporates a variety of elements to the final product. The bright, pop/rock arrangement delves into ethereal whistling, crunchy guitar leads, and keening synthesizers without ever seeming overly busy. Meanwhile, "Gold" takes a more laid-back approach, with the lazy tempo and AM radio harmonies giving off an almost yacht-rock feel.
By the time The Feel Is Now closes with the vaguely psychedelic title track and the percussive, somewhat tropical "Yer Radio", the listener's been taken on a warm, sonically rich journey with plenty of engaging stylistic stops. Gianmarco Cilli has written an impressive collection of songs, and recruiting the combined talents of some of Philly's finest musicians has certainly helped bring the best out of the compositions. Even if life can sometimes get in the way.