November 27, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Light rain 17°C

Synth man

Lecce-born, Berlin-based Massimiliano Pagliara swears by his old synths.
By Patrick Masterson
Published: 2014-09-30

here are scores of amateur old school synthesizer noodlers out there. To master even one of the waveform instruments is an accomplishment; to competently and creatively create new music on a range of them is an exploit of a higher order.

Lecce-born, Berlin-based Massimiliano Pagliara knows this well. Pagliara has plied his trade using vintage analog synths (the Roland Juno 106, Korg MS-20, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, among others) since Daniel Wang's Balihu Records released his first EP, Transmissions Florales, in 2008.

Wang, known for rough-edged Chicago-style house music, pushed the cleaner-styled Pagliara in another direction. His second full-length, With One Another (Live at Robert Johnson), shows this better than ever.

Pagliara's second full-length album is "With One Another" (Live at Robert Johnson).

Berlin imprint Live at Robert Johnson, known for releasing music from established acts like Prins Thomas, Roman Flügel, and DJ Koze, found this new, smoother style attractive. The Berliners also seemed like a slightly better fit for Pagliara than Wang and he's stuck with them since 2009's Toxic Love EP.

On With One Another Pagliara combines his old influences (Patrick Cowley, early New Wave, 80s italo-disco, the aforementioned Chicago house) with new blood. Of the 13 tracks, more than half of them collaborative in some way. It's a substantial departure from 2011's Focus for Infinity, his solo-only full-length debut.

Surprisingly, the collaborative effort improves the overall musical coherence. The buoyant opener "And We Kissed" sets the tone with a vibrant melody as the hook. Though Pagliara goes this one solo, there's little aesthetic distinction between "Kissed" and Chicago-influenced "A Dream I Get Stuck In," collaborations with Lee Douglas (on the slightly dubbier "Fall Again") or Credit 00 ("Native Tribes of Jaguar"). Part of that has to do with Pagliara's growing more comfortable in sharing production credits with friends — Berlin's nd_baumecker has worked closely with Pagliara under the Drei Fragezeichen alias.

Pagliara is also smart in his use of vocals. He deploys them early (with Mavin on "We Have Time") and late (with Benedikt Frey on the trip-hop influences of the title-track). This well-rounded balance of solo material, collaborations, influences, and sounds makes With One Another his most carefully planned and well-executed record to date.

As the closing "Your Love Away" slinks out of your headphones you get the feeling Pagliara is no longer just an artist on the rise. A lot of With One Another recalls the hardware handiwork of higher profile Norwegian producer Todd Terje. There's an effortless air of control over the machines that Terje has turned into a shtick of musical jouissance. Pagliara isn't quite there yet and probably isn't even interested in that destination. His persona is that of a synth auteur content to refine his craft in peace. Don't be surprised if he winds up redefining it as well.

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Patrick Masterson

Patrick is a New York-born freelance writer and DJ who lives on Chicago's West Side.

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