The Forbidden cru kick off the year with a succulent release from Italian producer Nicola Altieri under his Mechanical Man alias, with the undertones and rhythms - as always - cooked to perfection.
We talk a lot here about how certain producers seem to find a voice and a place to call their own more naturally than others, and its often these music makers that we gravitate towards due to their sound sounding like, well only really them in a sense. Electronic music has come a long way from the days of seismic leaps forward, with the current musical landscape a mixture of hefty nostalgia (both good and bad), heaps upon heaps of wonderful reissues, and a large helping of the new, with the melting pot that ensues causing us to be at ends with the selection we have being offered to us. Within this sea of musical expressionism, we find ourselves facing the preferences that reside deep inside and projecting them outwards into the market, dipping and diving between producers and labels who make tantalising stuff that either feeds into what we already want to love or perhaps something that we can grow to love in time. We latch onto artists who provide us with the vibes that we yearn for, either within certain contexts like clubs or at home or to suit the various emotional plains we inhabit throughout our daily lives, or indeed to those who can cater for all our needs in one discography. Genres have taken on many forms since their inceptions in the 80s and 90s, and now we have reached epic levels of representation and flavours, with all corners of the globe infatuated with the rhythms and tones of dance music.
Out of this sea, House emerged as one of the most popular threads of dance music - if not the most popular - and thus within its vast network exists near countless levels of music makers all looking to strike a chord with the listener. With such a plethora on display, its dizzying when you approach it head on in a quest for immediacy, but when taken at a more leisurely stroll you begin to look beneath a bit and find artists with a knack for the quirky and dynamic. In recent years, many producers have tried a hand at shaking up the four-to-the-floor formula by adding in features from other genres, such as rhythmic patterns, atmospherical elements and a scope that seems way bigger than the structured beats that bind it all together. The music becomes defined by the creativity of the mind behind it, one that remains willing and eager to demonstrate one of many directions in which the genre can grow, with this dynamic representing small steps that in today's soundscape feel like giant leaps forward. Artists who follow this path start to develop a thread within a thread, the music standing alone as a representation of their core values and ideals which when channelled into the music starts to make us believe again in the health and well being of the genre. The journey in which we undertake within their releases feels less about expectancy and more about excitement at what might come next, with their sound morphing and growing as time flows by to accommodate all manner of preferences and tastes. Thus they carve out their own space, their own spot within the sea of sound, a place that we can always return to when we need a dosage of a certain mood to reflect how we feel or where we are, and that is a wonderful thing indeed. Bountiful, emotive and thought provoking are perhaps some of the words we use to label these artists and their outputs, descriptions that attach themselves to the music because we felt bound to it, our minds drawn to every new release as a means to remain on top of those steps forward. Meaningful narratives will always draw a crowd, and the words found within will be read over, and over, and over again, and isn't that the most special feeling of all?
One such producer who has really found their own little space to call home is Italian producer Nicola Altieri, who since 2015 has released some stunning house/not quite house that transcends rooms, contexts and moods and into an entirely new place altogether. Altieri's sound is one of continually shifting keys, of glittering drumming patterns and warm embraces, moving elegantly between the tempos and tones with a airy confidence only reserved to those totally at ease with their creative vision. Its fair to say that his genre of choice is House, but we apply that moniker loosely, as Altieri spends a significant amount of time within his tracks exploring all facets and avenues in implementing other genre stylings, with Downtempo, Experimental, Electro and Breakbeat all featuring along the way within his discography. There's both an immediate charm and a sudden intricacy to his work that takes you aback slightly in a highly positive manner, with these two factors combining so very well to craft a level of intrigue that quickly turns into continual investment in his music. The sound that Altieri has conjured up through the Mechanical Man is one of never-ending horizons and limitless potential, with space provided for all in which to come and be a part of a musical universe that has much to say and all the time in the world to capture our hearts. Its House as we kind of know it but not quite as in-depth as we thought we knew it, as Altieri shows time and time again just how a little creative spark can keep your momentum going on like the perpetual motions of nature. His works stand as a testament to his abilities, with the blends on display keeping us locked in from start to finish, as the transitions between records are considered beautifully as an ongoing narrative. From his records, its hard to pick favourites out of a dazzling array, with our absolute highlights including the gorgeous after-hours early morning feels of the 'Parameter' record, that arrived in 2016; the floating cosmic ethereals that transpire from the 'Mechanical Soul' LP, which is a piece of music that could really melt hearts and minds, with the album arriving in 2017;
the skipping rhythms and intense key work of the excellent 'Ketza Doom' record, which arrived in 2018; the pulsating tonal mastery that persists within the 'Point of View 3' record, which landed in 2020; and finally, the heart felt rhythms found within the 'Mediterranea' record, which also arrived in 2020. To weave between these records is to see a producer on the up and up, with each record like a step down a newly trodden path, where all contexts and moods feel open and up for interpretation, but no matter what you might feel going into the record you just now how fulfilled you will be when the needle stops playing. The vibe that the Mechanical Man creates is anything but machine like and metallic, with the only robotic feeling coming from the razor sharp rhythmic features that prop up a sea of melodic wonderment, with the key work on all his records something to truly behold. Its House as we kind of know it but not exactly, with Altieri touching upon all facets of the genre's condition which provides us with an experience which remains intrinsic to his story, and for that we can only praise his previous steps and look forward with glee to whatever direction we go in next. Go check out his earlier works, we cannot recommend them enough.
And now we arrive at his latest release, 'The Streets of Revelation', that arrives via one of the freshest house labels around, Croatian imprint Forbidden Dance Records. On this one, Altieri seems to embrace the label's core identity of groovin' melody driven House whilst still staying true to his own ideals, with the resulting record a beautiful saunter through all that the genre can give over to us. Each track opens up to us with an intriguing rhythmic structure which then always leads into some delightful melodic work, something that has become a cornerstone of Altieri's sound, with the mixture here so gentle and breezy, like a striking blue sky coming through a curtain on a warm day. For Altieri, its just another progression that serves to bind us closer to his works, another chapter in the narrative of a producer with so much to say and an awful lot of ways of showing to us what can be achieved with a little bit of continued exploration. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this beautiful record.....
Up first comes 'The Streets of Revelation', and this one begins with the shakers and chordal progression getting us going. The sweeping audial effect then comes into view, lifting the track upwards to include a swinging drum loop and then a delightful bass line, the three elements no working in tandem with one another. A vocal line then emerges on top to provide that intimate feel that is present in so much of his works, with the words providing an deep connection to the listener, as a key line takes it upon itself to craft a powerful sequence that rises from deep within to the very top of the composition. The vocal sample 'nothing to it' calls out from within the progression, a shining light within a majestic blend of kicks and keys, with the addition of the hats continuing to fuel our experience as sequences continue to abound across the pan with a brilliant effectiveness. The shifts in density are very well balanced indeed, with this approach allowing for new melodic elements to get their moment in the sun, as the song plays itself out into the afternoon light. A wonderful start. 'I Keep Thinking' arrives next, and this one begins with the lightest of chordal arrangements to get us started. They are quickly joined by equally soft drums, their application just right to achieve maximum engagement with the keys, and then the smooth smooth vocal line arrives, and again its all balanced to a T. The arrangement then sees the kicks arrive into view as the composition moves into its complete rhythmic structure, with additional pads continuing to provide a compelling backdrop for the vocals to shine, our hearts and minds fully involved with whats going on. The song flutters around the room, taking in all the energy that persists within it as we saunter along in a hazy emotion fuelled state, a broad smile growing on our face as we swing through the various movements and stanzas that flow within. There's a particular elegance about this track, particularly when the vocals move in and around some inspired melodic sections where the layered keys unravel and tumble upon each other in the most inspired of ways, providing a totality in experience and mood. Gorgeous stuff. 'What Your Eyes Don't See' flows into view next, and this one sees the drums arrive first with a scattering of density driven tones found between the kicks. The movement onwards sees the lightest of vocal lines reside somewhere on the horizon line, with a gentle bass line permeating through on occasion, with the drums cutting out to reveal the melodic sequence that begins in the distance before arriving right into our laps. The melodic sequence rises then rises some more, the drums evolving in earnest to match their development which leads to a particularly beautiful sequence indeed as the drums move up in intensity to include the hats, as the keys evolve to being more jazzy in their application. The results are intoxicating and just go to show how a keen ear for evolution within a cut can make all the difference, with this approach acting as a retaining element to keep us locked into the flows with a brilliant precision. The shifts in energy as the hats remerge is wondrous, a shift that sees our position within the track moved up above the progression, just so we get a chance to see all that exists within this beautiful soundscape. Beautiful.
'Take Her In Your Arms' comes next, and this one begins with a particularly mesmerising percussive structure indeed. This then takes a slight dip to introduce the bass line and high end melodic line, with an array of cascading lines moving in and around both sides of the pan which really keeps our interest perked up, with the prominent rhodes like keys helping the melodies to settle on their main progression. The next few scenes see some inspired key work come into view, with a series of tones washing over us as the track moves onwards and upwards, with the mixture shifting from flute like lines to glassy cascades with a real sense of ease and flair. The energy simmers rather than explode, retaining a gentle meandering through the fields of our shared experience, presenting to us a feeling, a memory that we have of a certain place in time, a warm place, a place of love and happiness, somewhere we felt safe and comfortable. Much like the track title suggests, tenderness and adoration is high on this track's priority list, and you really do feel the love following from this one, and without any vocals we are conveyed that all via the use of melodics. A tune filled with adoration, for sure. Up next comes the first of two bonus cuts, 'A Long Time', which begins in a noticeably uptempo place indeed. Here Altieri really flexes his percussive expertise, with the various elements of the groove impeccably balanced to get the blood pumping, with the kicks, hats and bongos crafting a vibrant undercurrent for other features to roll into view. This occurs as the track reaches its first breakdown of sorts, with the vocal samples rolling out across the top ends and then a huge swell emerges from deep within the percussive structure, with light rhythmic features getting thrown into the mix to keep the progression going on strong indeed. The resulting feel is one of density and scale, with all the elements working alongside each other to provide a total encapsulation of the mind, with cosmic sequences flowing around the core driver to craft a continuous trajectory that winds up higher and higher. This track never falters, not for one moment. To wrap things up, we have 'Claw Out This Hole', with this one starting off with the drums and keys leading the way. The solid lead chord line remains the most solid yet, with its rising nature euphoric to the ears as the drums look to fill up the bottom ends, and of course its pulled off with a real sense of skill. The composition sees light additions make their way into view, with these touches helping to keep the progression going onwards and upwards into the night sky, and before long we are joined by the singular note rising up above the composition. Its placement and feel matches the solidness of the bottom ends very well indeed, leading the track into a breakdown that sees more textures pile up and the feels reach feverish levels. The track then deconstructs itself to just the bass and light drumming patterns, with the build up looking to incorporate all that it sees around it to keep the momentum going on strong, as the lead chords return for one final salvo in the sun, our hearts and minds completely sold on everything that this track - and album - have to offer. Stunning in every sense of the word.
There's always a lot to unpack from Altieri's releases, and this record is absolutely no different. The many shades of House comes filtering through on each track, be it more melodically driven smoothers or the deep rhythmic impulses that rock the floor to its core, there's something here for every context and mood, and that's not even getting into how these songs are constructed or applied. Altieri really does have a skill when it comes to composition, with the layering and structure of tracks really selling the concept and feeling behind it, inviting us into a believable and fully realised world that contains so much for us to look at and get involved within. There's moments of visceral tenderness and absolute joy, all presented using the same tools but executed by a creative will that remains big on believability and tonal dynamism. Its a brilliant addition to his story, and just goes to show how the Mechanical Man has the biggest of hearts and one of contemporary House's most compelling narratives. A true gem.
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