Federico Albanese: The Houseboat and The Moon
Denovali Records

One could write the shortest possible review of Federico Albanese's The Houseboat and the Moon by simply stating that if your taste runs to Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Dustin O'Halloran, and especially Yann Tiersen, Albanese's debut album will without question satisfy your musical appetite. But doing so would shortchange the Milan-born and Berlin-based composer, wouldn't it, and furthermore wouldn't tell you a whole lot about the splendid music presented on the release or the man himself.

Let's start, then, with Albanese's musical journey, which began with piano and clarinet studies as a child, continued on with bass and guitar studies in his teens, and eventually led to playing in several bands as part of Milan's underground scene and developing his compositional skills. After partnering in 2007 with singer-songwriter Jessica Einaudi in the project La Blanche Alchimie, Albanese channeled his energy into writing scores for films and documentaries.

Which brings us to The Houseboat and the Moon, fifty-four minutes of pretty piano-centered compositions largely free of despair. Generally classical in tone, Albanese's thirteen pieces impress on formal grounds without sounding overly stuffy or precious. Adding to the project's intimate character, he recorded all of the piano parts using a1969 German tape recorder, the Uher Royal Deluxe, and enhanced its sound with electronics, synthesizers, glockenspiel, vibes, field recordings, bells, and toy piano. While the album is largely a solo affair, cello and bassoon contributions are provided by three guest musicians.

As the preceding makes clear, Albanese is a multi-instrumentalist, and the album material includes a wealth of musical sounds. But don't get the wrong impression: while strings, percussion, electronics, and keyboards of various kinds are included, piano is the nucleus around which all other elements constellate. Representative of the album's style and tone, “Disclosed” casts a most potent spell in its entrancing blend of string melodies, graceful piano patterns, and bell tinklings; the later “Beside You” perpetuates its pretty style if a tad more ruminatively.

Certain pieces bring his more melancholy side to the fore, and it's in those moments that the album proves most affecting. One can almost see the rain falling outside one's window when forlorn settings such as “Carousel #3,” “Kato,” and “The Sudden Sympathy” fill the room. To these ears, there's only one instance when Albanese's judgment errs and that's in his decision to underlay the piano melodies in “Queen and Wonder” with an electronic beat pattern—a detail that forces his music into a too-rigid tempo; his music is at its most effective when its rhythms breathe naturally, untethered to a regulated beat. Pensive, reflective, and romantic are words that come to mind as one listens to The Houseboat and the Moon, but if only one could be used to capture the essence of its classical-electronic sound, it would have to be graceful.

March 2014