January 25, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Clear 10°C

All for Niños

By Patrick Masterson
Published: 2014-12-29

Nico Vascellari of Ninos du Brasil: no more shyness.

teering clear of conventional chart-toppers such as Valerio Scanu and Gianna Nannini, it's time tip a year-end cap to Italian artists and labels that worked across a multitude of genres to produce interesting and challenging music on a global scale.

If you twisted my arm for a favorite, I'd point you to Nicolò Fortuni and Nico Vascellari, a.k.a. Niños du Brasil. The duo's sophomore album Novos Mistérios (Hospital Productions) transcends the limitations of niche. Here are seven propulsive and colorful songs that are pure body music.

As the "Niño" name suggests, the record is rich in New World influences. Both the spirit of the record and its propelling instruments derive from a Brazilian samba form called the batucada, which relies on repetitive, high-paced rhythms and a wide variety of percussion (the tamborim, timbal and surdo drums may sound most familiar).

But what makes Novos Mistérios compelling is how it never sounds like a cheap imitation. "Our musical approach is overtly visceral and sexual," says Vascellari. "That's how we see rhythm, and life in general, as a kind of war against shyness and inhibition."

Both Fortuni and Vascellari are seasoned figures in the Italian art world (performance and sound artist Vascellari has run the Codalunga space in the city of Vittorio Veneto, bear Begamo, since 2005 and once represented Italy at the Venice Biennale). Their networking connections put them in touch with Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions. Though Hospital typically releases more grayscale material, Niños du Brasil gives the label a glow. The music explores dance without ever losing its tense edge.

"Sombra da Lua" and its jungle-like atmosphere set the mood. Barebones polyrhythmic complexities and warped chants dominate "Sepultura," probably the record's harshest cut. The bright beat of "Essenghelo Tropical" is a late peak before the 11-minute title-track closes with a surging sound crest to end the album on a high.

As for Italian labels, bypass Gang of Ducks at your own risk. Founded in 2013, the anonymous collective — its members run the show from bases in Turin and Berlin — had a massive second year.

Anonymity in music is no longer a particularly novel or even exciting tool. But the collective's strict adherence to a policy of signing emails as "one of the Gang," its hand-drawn artwork, and its stream of releases gives Gang of Ducks a leg up.

Its seven 2014 offerings (in addition to crucial press features and artist podcasts) featured otherwise-unknowns including Haf Haf, Dave Saved and S Olbricht, each eclectic enough to escape pigeonholing.

Gang of Ducks opened the year with Haf Haf's lo-fi Notch, later adding the demented industrial abstractions of Sudden Infant, the dub-influenced One Circle, the synth noodling of Traag, and rounded things out with by announcing a coming EP from first-timer Sabla (featuring remixes from G.O.D. and Ital.)

It's hard to gauge the outlook of record label that plays objectives so close to the chest. But based on consistency of output and a rising profile internationally, Gang of Ducks seems to have a bright future.

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