Various Artists: Italia Nova: The Rough Guide to Italia Nova

Terry Sawyer

Various Artists

Italia Nova: the Rough Guide to Italia Nova

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2004-04-27
UK Release Date: 2004-04-26

You've seen this trick a hundred times before. It has many manifestations, but it's all the same cheap stitching. Country-rap? Billie Holiday drum 'n' bass? What they have in common is that they're hybrids tossed together in a haphazard way, with no sense of evolution, and none of the deep genre cross-talk that took place, for example, between the blues and rock and roll or even country and the blues way back yonder. This is the Chia Pet version of roots.

Just the other day, I heard a few snippets of a Miles Davis remix that absolutely begged itself out of a reason for existing. I made sure to find out who did it, so that I would have the correct spelling on the "Wanted" posters. If you suspect compilations that unfeelingly meld past and present, you're got a good eye for a grift. Italia Nova is like a group of teenagers tossing two different animals in a bag and shaking it up to see if they mate. The stink of commercial venture wafts in thicker once you realize that this compilation is part of an ongoing collaboration with a travel guide company, which is presumably why all the songs keep the same beach resort pace throughout. If this record makes you want to go to Italy, then so would Spaghetti O's.

Daniele Sepe's "Anime Candide" is by far the most embarrassing union. Was traditionally Italian music really that starved for an infusion of hair band metal and hotel lobby funk? I only wish I knew more about whatever traditional genre this song was giving a stabbing makeover to so that I could send a formal apology. It hurts. Nidi D'Arac's "Ronde Noe" sounds like it might actually be a beautiful track, but you'll never know because they decide to employ techno the way a municipality employs an air raid siren -- and the result is that the contemporary cast of the song mucks the surface like picnic flies and you sorely wish you could just wipe it away.

"Segesta" by Lino Cannavacciuolo actually seems to nail the fusion a bit, coming nearest to some of the sultry threading that world music fanatics like the Thievery Corporation deploy. The trumpets sound like they're rolling in off the ocean -- although they end up a little too frisky, sounding like a porn soundtrack for a film called "Bi-Curious Matadors". Even here, the use of electronic music tends toward absence, but the song is soothing enough to erase the irritating lack of ambition. Alpha Bass' "Aradanse" succeeds moderately with dervish-frantic beats that at the very least seem to be aware of the vocal track, but it's nothing A Guy Called Gerald couldn't do in his sleep. It, like everything else tolerable on this compilation, only works insofar as it generously allows you to cut free and daydream about something else... like, say, a much better album playing in the background.

For crying out loud, has anyone at Rough Guides ever heard of Amon Tobin? Okay, so he's not Italian, but I have to believe that there's some Italian equivalent out there, someone who could actually interact with these traditional sounds rather than simply lying on top of them and passing out after a few limp thrusts and a beer belch. While I'm no expert on the quality of the traditionalists represented here, I can tell you that their forays into the modern era are uniformly without risk or intrigue, banal beats that are about as inspired as the accidental music of rifling through a silverware drawer. It's almost as if they picked the most unobtrusive beats possible and then just played the song on top of them, a form of hybridizing that treats the modernizing as a taint that must be endured in order to create a more marketable product. Aesthetically speaking, it's both despicable and a thoughtlessly amateurish act of chemistry. Mario Rivera's "Su Dilluru" simply begins with a bit of chesty traditional vocalizing and then breaks the song somewhere around the halfway mark to dally in third-tier chillout-room twaddle. Do all Italian remixers use potato mashers for their craft?

Italia Nova's only originality is rote and irrelevant. After all, I could be the first person to put house music underneath sacred Eskimo songs, but it would have no intrinsic interest simply because it hadn't yet been done. This sounds like a CD Starbucks would play to lubricate your wallet, something that by mixing music you don't recognize with beats you've heard a hundred times, purports to be "edgy". Even the cover smacks of those compilations that cover some huge genre like "The Blues", crammed into discount display bins with taglines about dinner parties and impressing your friends. The only friends you'd impress would be the people who think of music buying as a means of stocking their homes with appropriately cultured items. There's no way to short-circuit a genuine education in music, just as there is no way to slap one genre into another and call it a day. Italia Nova, if it is genuinely some new trend or new movement wildfiring its way through Italy, needs to go back to the drawing board and relearn techno, beginning somewhere around Eno and ending up with any number of contemporary geniuses like Four Tet, Manitoba, or Mocean Worker. There's no reason in the world to milk a few filthy dimes out of finding two rich traditions and creating a mutual graffiti society.

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