Officially, this is the third Bar Italia album. However, given that their first two slipped out unceremoniously on Dean Blunt’s World Music label and, combined, wouldn’t even fill one side of a cassette, there’s a good case to be made for Tracey Denim being their de facto debut. It’s not just circumstances, either: Tracey Denim feels like a debut, too, brimming with the sort of boldly odd artistic poses that only a debut band can strike alongside a charmingly wide-eyed naivete.
What’s most striking about Tracey Denim, though, is that despite working fairly tightly within the confines of idiomatic post-punk throughout, it doesn’t really sound like anything else in that bracket: opener ‘Guard’, with its childlike piano plonks over addictive, cut-up drums, offers simultaneous simplicity and complexity, and the looping montage effect of ‘Nurse!’s disparate sections just slammed up against one another is startling. This production technique – with certain things in common with the Dust Brothers or Odelay!-era Beck – has real potency here, especially when the loops strip back to just drums and bass and are left to run, unadorned, serving Bar Italia’s clean, clever, wonky songwriting beautifully.
The album’s middle third stumbles slightly – another textbook tell that we’re in debut album territory – with the same ideas recycled and shuffled into decreasingly different iterations, but it’s nothing life-threatening, and the closing three tracks recover, hinting at grander things to come. It adds up to an internal contradiction of an album: curious, wrong-footing, and, on its frequent highs, deliciously compelling.
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