City Paper is not for tourists
Psychedelic act Jennifer Gentle used to be a duo, but the recent departure of drummer Alessio Gastaldello cut the Padova, Italy, band’s ranks in half. That leaves Marco Fasolo to shoulder the lysergic burden alone on his latest release, The Midnight Room, as the composer, performer, and producer. (He uses a full band live.) The disc starts promisingly with “Twin Ghosts,” on which Fasolo sings like a spaced-out choirboy over a swelling, wheezing organ sound. It’s a nice, dreamy mood-setter—the kind of soft, vaporous song that usually precedes an energetic freakout on psych records. What follows instead is a sparse, dreary sing-song ditty, “Telephone Ringing,” that aims to recall the absurdist style of Syd Barrett (whose lyrics for “Lucifer Sam” inspired Jennifer Gentle’s name). Barrett may have been an acid casualty who often mistook a biscuit tin for a sweet-smelling robotic assassin, but at least he knew his way around a memorable melody. Those looking for something as lively and catchy as “I Do Dream You” and “Nothing Makes Sense” from Jennifer Gentle’s previous album, 2005’s Valende, will be disappointed. On that album, the band explored three distinct styles—acoustic folk, Nuggets-y psych-pop, and whimsical, Barrett-esque, nightmarish lullabies. Given that breadth, it’s no surprise that one track on The Midnight Room, “Mercury Blood,” begins, wackily enough, with a kazoo-led processional. But Fasolo’s meager efforts on drums make Meg White sound like Billy Cobham, and Gastaldello’s absence forces Fasolo to stick mainly to nursery-rhyme mode. On tunes like “It’s in Her Eyes,” “Take My Hand,” and “Electric Princess,” Fasolo’s affected singing sounds like a witchier version of Bowie’s Chipmunk-like vocals on the novelty song “The Laughing Gnome.” The lone exception is the genuinely weird and discordant “Granny’s House.” Built around his banging on a xylophone and intermittently strumming a detuned guitar, the Cageian tune offers a more menacing feeling than the haunted-carousel vibe of the rest of the album. By the time Fasolo listlessly beckons on the final track, “Come Closer,” the listener will be inspired to follow the example of the ex-drummer and, having turned on and tuned in, will be more than ready to drop out.