Guano Padano - 2
Guano Padano, despite having a name that is a composite of cheese and a natural manure made chiefly of bird excrement, deal in some pretty serious cinematic atmospherics. Indeed their 2009 self-titled debut featured among its guest contributors the 'whistler' from the Ennio Morricone soundtracks (Alessandro Alessandroni), which gives an indication of the kind of ominously vivid furrow that is ploughed on this Italian trio's almost exclusively instrumental sophomore effort 2.
In fact almost every composition on this album could soundtrack a lone gunman riding into a frontier town, the tense moments before a gunfight, or perhaps even some kind of pulp fiction-esque diner scene where people are far too effortlessly cool for their own good. These images are painted at various points with a palette of twanging guitars, bending bass notes and rolling drum parts, such as on 'Miss Chan' where the band resemble a demented mid-west version of The Shadows, with Alexander Stephanas' guitar carving a jagged gash across a classic 60's rock and roll beat that is punctuated by what sounds like a banjo & typewriter duet.
It's when the band push on into this weird & dark side of their sound that the album can be seen to come to life. 'Lynch' is a brilliantly unsettling piece of melancholic jazz trip-hop, where Danilo Gallo takes his upright-bass for a bending and fractious walk behind some barely audible saxophone, shuffling drums and discordant guitar, there's even a theramin solo thrown in for good measure. Given this tendency towards craziness, it's perhaps fitting that the only vocal part on 2 is performed by Faith No More vocalist and quintessential musical chameleon Mike Patton, who growls and spits across 'Prairie Fire'.
Away from the darkness there is also a pair of beautifully sad, lap-steel ballads in shape of 'Nashville' and 'Sleep Walk' that bring the listener into land towards the end of the album. Stripped of the sirens and screams of earlier tracks the band prove that they can still create some really engaging compositions, particularly in the case of the latter of these two, a wonderfully short and sweet lover's waltz.
However, like the imagined movies that 2 seeks to score, there are lulls in the action where the band can be seen to slip into more standard instrumental noodling. 'Zebulon' is a piece of relatively forgettable banjo-led skiffle and there are other instances where Guano Padano rely rather to heavily on surf guitar licks to carry a song in the absence of any deeper structural ideas. Tracks such as 'Gran Bazaar' seem to start, happen and end without a lot of variation or dynamics, which is a shame when these songs are held up against some of the more intriguing pieces on 2.
That being said, there is certainly enough quality on this album to ensure that this feature is worth the entry fee as there are moments when Guano Padano create some vibrant slices of atmospheric music. But like a lot of instrumental bands, they at times fall into the trappings of structural repetition that stop 2 from becoming the great soundtrack to film that hasn't been made, yet probably should be, because for the most part it would be pretty cool.