Originally planned as an essay about the inheritance of the Romantic revolution in the contemporary world, the Post Romantic Empire ended up becoming something wildly different. It became a project focusing on event organisation and artist bookings, a recording label, and a photographic safari. PRE had originally been set up on the encounters between Giulio Di Mauro and many amazing artists, and The Post Romantic Empire Album is the result.
Featuring such artists as Roger O’Donnell and Julia Kent (The Story of Shéhérazade), Baby Dee and Little Annie Bandez (The House of the Rising Sun), Annabella Lwin (Love Will Tear Us Apart), the album is a gigantic effort of drama and pathos – fully deserving to be played out very very loudly on the biggest speakers you have. It’s classical, and yet it’s not. It’s jazz, and then it’s something else. It’s huge and bombastic and altogether gorgeous.
All quotes in this review are from Giulio Di Mauro’s notes on the album. Giulio tells of how the album came to be:
From 2009, when we announced the end of the project with the PRE Final Fest marathon, three more years were necessary to process all the experiences and to understand just how to pass them on – what to do with all the memories, the sensations, the ideas, the connections.
On a Saturday night in 2002 all of the sudden I stopped dancing, made my way through the crowd and asked the deejay, ‘Sorry, but what song is this?’ A piano interlude had sweetly turned in on itself for not more than a few seconds and in it I thought I had recognised the main theme of Jörg Buttgereit’s film Nekromantik, a soundtrack I had been seeking for years. ‘It’s “All the Pretty Little Horses” by Current 93,’ he said. In little more than a month I had bought all of the cds one could find at the time, and for a year listened almost exclusively to Current 93. In 2003 I did a portrait of Michael Cashmore and then, thanks to Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, I met David Tibet. In 2004, together with Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, with whom Jonny B and I had just founded the label PREcordings, I organised a concert with Current 93 in Turin. From then on I have been their tour manager. In 2009 we organised a festival lasting more than thirty consecutive hours during which Jörg Buttgereit performed the soundtrack to Nekromantik and at whose culmination Current 93 played. Today I realise that back in 2002 I had casually opened a ring-like course, which, without any preparation, I followed through to the end. An excursion within a territory I pompously called Post Romantic Empire. I was looking for a symbolic and didactic name and thought: Post will indicate what continues along pathways that are really just new branches of the same root; Romantic will connect every reasoning to an origin; Empire will define the space and ironically suggest the number of people interested; the acronym P.R.E. will indicate the temporal direction. Obviously the superficial use of the prefix post cost me the benevolence of the cultural anthropology professor who had given me the instruments to imagine a path of studies that at the same time became an ideal in the name of which I sacrificed myself completely. However, if there were really more than a thousand levels to explore, then I could find one of my own and give it the name I wanted! If King Shahriyar, losing himself in a tangle of a thousand stories, had been redeemed and had found love – well then anyone today, in a world without kings but set in a much larger fabric of stories, could try to do it his or herself!
The album opens with The Story of Shéhérazade – we’ve covered Roger and Julia’s recent album release, which also features this track. It’s a melancholy and wistful piano and cello piece which arcs and winds around the senses, and weaves itself into your brain. It is a gorgeous piece, sombre and resonant and delicious.
“Sheherazade” represents, if we also keep in mind Rimsky Korsakov’s work as a whole, the origins of European Romanticism. This is a duet both from the point of view of the narration (the king and the princess) as well as that of its execution. As Roger O’Donnell was composing and playing in London, Julia Kent was recording in New York. It is a composition in three movements that, although developed along a narrative structure, is pure emotion.
Nicely juxtaposed to this comes The House of the Rising Sun, with the vocals of Little Annie Bandez sounding every bit like Eartha Kitt, snarling and whining and a voice which sounds as if she’d been smoking 60 packets of cigarettes a day – husky doesn’t even come close to describing her sound. It then blends into something that sounds like a traditional Freedom Train song, altogether transporting the listener back to ol’ New Orleans with speakeasies and bordellos…
The southern U.S. folk standard “The House of the Rising Sun” was proposed to Baby Dee, Andrew WK and Matt Sweeney during the dilated time of a pre-concert sound-check of Current 93’s. “There’s nothing easier and at the same time more stimulating for an American musician,” was the answer. Baby Dee confronted this re-writing in the best of ways – a jam session in New York where, in addition to Matt Sweeney and Andrew WK, she invited Little Annie Bandez to be on vocals, Sxip Shirley, Sarah Alden, Robbie Lee, Sarah Nowicki and Matthew Robinson. Improvisational magic: from the echoes of the house of the rising sun comes “Little Black Train”, a song within the song reinforcing the impression that in reality it is all part of the listener’s dream. A moment in time destined to forever repeat itself in different permutations.
Next is the haunting take on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Initially almost robotic, then suddenly sweet and effusive, the vocals syncopate perfectly with the breezy instrumentals. It’s a ghostly, nearly spooky take on a song which is already sombre enough.
Following this is an Elegy Version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. Re-arranged by Matt Howden in Sheffield UK in 2011, produced and mixed by Andrew Liles in 2012 in Hepton Stall (also UK), it features Natt Wason on electric guitar, Eliot Bates on oud (an Arabic stringed instrument), Peter Hook on bass, and vocals by Larry Cassidy, and also features remixes of some of the sounds of the musicians involved in the previous version of Love Will Tear Us Apart.
It’s a massive sound, the oud resonating strongly throughout. Conjuring up a poetry reading by a fireside in an old English pub, Larry Cassidy’s vocals aren’t sung, but spoken. This works perfectly: the lyrics take on new meaning as they are appreciated for their rhythmic qualities.
From the earliest days of PRE we have collaborated with violinist Matt Howden. It was therefore only natural for us to ask him, a citizen of Yorkshire, to elaborate “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which for us is a neo-archetype of contemporary Romanticism. In 2006 I had met New Order for a photographic session and from that meeting had kept Peter Hook’s email address. I wrote him to ask permission to continue with the project and invited him along with guitarist Nat Wason to be part of a virtual jam-session to take place around Matt’s re-composition. The presence of one the original authors of the 20th century’s most moving song added an unexpected dimension to the entire history of the PRE: that of the real, of the connection to a history not simply perceived a posteriori. We then invited David Tibet to sing, Annabella Lwin to be on backing vocals, Dave Barbarossa and Vin Cassidy to play drums, Massimo Pupillo to play bass and Eliot Bates to play oud. Andrew Liles, who we consider the most formidable sculptor of sound alive, accepted the most difficult job of the entire album: mixing the hours and hours of recordings.
I myself had the opportunity to participate in one of the mixing sessions of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” when I personally brought Andrew another recording, an unexpected gift, which once again would turn our plans upside down. Vin Cassidy had given Carlo Cassaro, my primary collaborator, a recording of Larry Cassidy, whose band Section 25 we had recently promoted in Italy, reciting a selection of Joy Division lyrics. Larry had passed away only a short time before and his reading of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” moved us all profoundly. It is above all for this reason that we decided to suspend the production of the fourth track we had originally envisioned to close the track-list – “Something for Your Mind” (which had been given to Othon Mataragas who did an exceptional job and which we hope to be able to put out in the near future) – in order to substitute a second version, elegiac and open, of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” celebrating Larry’s posthumous work.
The idea of revisiting (retracing) famous landscapes of our culture, which are open paths in many minds, is the most complex work I have ever done for the Empire. It is the work that has given my life meaning so far – a work whose meaning, however, I have yet to understand.
New Order’s “Dreams Never End”, spoke/sung by Gitane Demone, nicely segues after LWTUA. A beautifully powerful take on the piece, which yet again makes us realise that Joy Division/New Order didn’t write songs so much as put poems to words. Compared to the rest of the album it’s very brief, but it’s *enough*. The song finishes as abruptly as it starts, but that only adds to its beauty.
Dreams Never End, in addition to being one of Paul’s (Tired) favorite songs, is a track with a strong symbolical meaning. It’s the first track of New Order’s first album, after the death of Ian Curtis, and for this reason symbol of a turning point. A song full of sorrow, but which brings hope at the same time, because dreams never end.
Annarella, the only song sung in Italian on the album, opens with an Italian church choir. The piano of Maja Elliott (also heard in Dreams Never End) blends seamlessly into the piece, and acts as a counterpoint to the vocals.
The Post Romantic Empire Album is a work of art from start to finish. Issued as a vinyl release as well as a CD, the packaging has been hand-made by Fabio Saccavino at Grafica Antica, Rome, Italy. Order the album by emailing PRE directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. Find them on their website, Facebook, YouTube and Soundcloud.