Gentle on My Mind

Italian duo Jennifer Gentle speak the lingua franca of psych rock.

I DON'T know about you, but I could no sooner construct an intelligent sentence in Italian—or any language other than my native one—than string together some obtuse, abstract nonsense in a foreign tongue. In fact, I'd guess that it might even be more difficult to come up with whimsical poppycock; there's no phrase book in the world that will tell you how to translate "Pee all around, pee all around/Dancing with suitcases."

Jennifer Gentle, the Italian experimenters doing the peeing and dancing—and all kinds of other good stuff on the new Valende (Sub Pop)—aren't the first or only foreign band to write and sing in English, of course; there are Japanese girl groups like Shonen Knife and Scandinavian garage rockers like the Hives. But of the present-day ESL practitioners working within the psychedelic pop patois, they're certainly the most fun.

"It'd all be less adventurous and way too easy if I wrote in Italian," singer/guitarist Marco Fasolo says via e-mail. "I write [with as much] irrationality as possible so that I can feel like I don't know what's going on until everything's done. I get an un- unexpected surprise as a result."

Who knows what the songwriter receives as his un-unforeseen revelation in the song "Universal Daughter," but for the listener, an irrational truth regarding kazoos is surreptitiously uncovered: Where words alone won't cut it, the eloquently buzzing membrane of the musical toy speaks the international lingo of loopiness. Fasolo and drummer/Jennifer Gentle co-founder Alessio Gastaldello have an impressive grasp on the English language, sure. But as befits their chosen aesthetic, they seldom make much straightforward use of it, and their instruments aren't any more likely to flaunt their fluency. Jangling, baroque folk guitars give a serious-as-Nick-Drake texture to the twee, pitter-patting piano lines plunked out on Playskool keyboards, but only sometimes is there something like a verse followed by something like a chorus.

Valende, which, like Jennifer Gentle's two previous releases, was recorded at home by Fasolo and Gastaldello, is front-loaded with abstract expressionist pop in the vein of The Madcap Laughs or some really bizarre, unaired Monkees episode, but it soon spirals into a corkscrew of stoned, velveteen cacophony. It's noise rock for Japanese anime characters. Jennifer Gentle don't just sound like they're tripping—they sound like they're tripping down a long, padded staircase.

"I think our major inspirational source is imagination," says Fasolo. "I think every musician should invent his personal unique dimension with his records and avoid to picture reality." Here Fasolo struggles a bit with the exact English expression, but you can figure out what he means, much in the same way that you can figure out the meaning of a lyric like, "I used to like a billion different pies," even if, in literal terms, you don't know what the hell he's talking about.

YOU MIGHT GUESS that in the land of Ennio Morricone and Federico Fellini, this kind of surrealist shit would fly. But you would be wrong: Jennifer Gentle's music has raised far more interest in the U.K. and here in America, not to mention Japan. Gastaldello says that their live record, The Wrong Cage (SillyBoy), which was recorded while the band was on tour with Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto, sold only 150 copies in Italy—less than 10 percent of its total sales.

"We're not part of the indie-rock Italian scene," says the drummer. Too bad for the scene, then, but Gastaldello and Fasolo aren't much concerned. With Groucho Marx–like resolve, they released their records themselves, until Sub Pop came along. Actually, I'd imagine local sound/art innovators Sun City Girls had something to do with it. Sworn fans, it's likely they're at least partially responsible for getting some early Jennifer Gentle songs into the hands of Wall of Sound owner Jeffrey Taylor, who had it wafting out of the speakers when Sub Pop employee Dean Whitmore came by on his weekly retail run.

"They never wanted us to act differently or be something else musically," says Fasolo of his U.S. label. The fact that Jennifer Gentle were already acting "differently" probably had something to do with that. "We don't want to be pop or experimental, easy or difficult, psychedelic or noisy. We would like to be a way for all these elements to get together. I think that the most peculiar aspect about us is how we always try to be well-balanced. Being chaotic or melodic, electric or acoustic. None of our different sides must prevail. It'd be so much [more] boring for me." For us, too.

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