Backdoor, Turin, at last. I step through the door with wish list of albums to add to my collection in mind. What I haven’t foreseen was that over Christmas the shelves have been looted with great care in such a way that only one record from the list is available: Unknown Pleasures, perhaps not by chance. A five-hour long journey beneath the car seat, though, would make the disc feel tremendously lonely, so I decide to find him some company. I seek advice from M Blatto – manager of the shop and journalist for the music magazine Rumore – who sees the black sleeve I’m holding and reaches for the ‘new releases’ section. Without hesitation he pulls out a bright red disc asserting that if Joy Division were to be sung today they would probably have her voice. Somewhat confused but particularly intrigued I ask him to play the record; in a moment the air is filled with atmospheric sounds fused together with a distant and obscure voice. Only once back in the car I realise I haven’t even read the name of the album nor of the artist: You Know What It’s Like by Carla dal Forno.
After I played the record for the first time I felt it didn’t have the chance to fully express its potential: it needs more patience. The album is only thirty minutes long and only half of it has vocals; it’s easy to get lost or simply distracted by its fragile and minimalistic tunes. The pattern is: a lyrical song for every instrumental track, the latter set as a prelude for the former. The instrumental sections are a mixture of mildly electronic ambient music, ranging from DB Rip’s house beat to the psychedelic guitar and synths of ‘Dry In the Rain’; a more thorough and round use of the synths is achieved in ‘Dragon Breath’. Another core and ever-present feature throughout the record is her DIY musical background that has always accompanied her since her musical debut in the bustling Melbourne scene. The atmosphere conjured by these tracks is profoundly dreamlike and yet anchored to the ground: it is bounded to reality while trying to fly away. Household, daily noises are alternated to fleeter and more ethereal sounds suggesting a strong ambivalence and sometimes ambiguity. This tension is made explicit in the even more disorientating vocal pieces; while ‘Fast Moving Cars’ is longing for an adventurous and thrilling life (“and shout a reply I want you to try/ yeah come on be reckless”), the title track ‘You Know What It’s Like’ depicts a dull and not-so-satisfying routine. This is exemplified by the videoclips of both songs: the first filmed in the wilderness of the Australian Outback compared to the domestic and weary scenes of the second. Both ‘Fast Moving Cars’ and ‘What You Gonna Do now’ pulsate with a pounding Krautrock-like bassline on which her detached though sensual voice floats. The latter, in particular, is a homage to British post-punk as she acknowledges it to be one of her most influential musical backgrounds. Gothic sounds and her glacial voice (a rather clear nod to German singer Nico) are evocatively combined in the best track of the album to produce a stir of thoughts in a nocturnal city scene. Despite the strong intimacy of the lyrics, inextricably rooted in dal Forno’s personal and love life, the singer poses unanswered questions you are doomed to ask yourself after the grooves creep deep enough beneath your skin.
“Hi, thanks for having me here tonight”.
Covo Club, Bologna. The stage is largely bare, just the essential: one synth connected to a mixer and a microphone. When Carla dal Forno makes her way onto the stage the audience is no larger than sixty, and by the end of the show it’s probably even less than that. Neither a presentation nor an introduction to open the performance: anyone here knows exactly what is going to be played. Not entirely perhaps. All the songs are delivered from a deeper and, if possible, more private sphere than the recorded ones. She is playing and singing to herself and/or someone close, constantly looking back and looking forward in her life, all the while staring ahead blankly. It’s like watching a show from behind an invisible veil that screens empathy from both sides; energy, however, is unceasingly flowing from the stage, given the delicate intensity of the gig. From the first opening synth notes to the fading bottom line of ‘What You Gonna Do Now’ the audience is mesmerised, gently swaying along to the music.
“I wish I’d written more songs, but that’s all for tonight”.
Well, now she has: her new EP The Garden came out in October for Blackest Ever Black, the same label as her debut LP. This newly released four-track record preserves much of the obscure and eerie sounds of her previous work; the stark minimalistic sound is slightly enriched with denser synth loops and more harmonic bassline riffs. All of this just renders the EP even darker. ‘The Garden’ is a direct reference, both musical and lyrical, to German band Einsturzende Neubauten’s 1996 song with the same name. Dal Forno’s lyrics are composed as a reply to Blixa’s invitation – “You will find me if you want me in the garden, unless it’s pouring down with rain” – singing that she would be in the garden, regardless of the weather. Immediately after the lyrics veer towards a cryptic and disturbing scenario – “When darkness falls there’s so much more to it/ The wild shapes are in my eyes” – confirming her favourite setting is after dusk. Most of the content of the songs is still coming from her private life, as ‘We Shouldn’t Have to Wait’ or ‘Make up Talk’ specifically refer to her troubled relationship and this enhances the meaning behind all her works. Her personal, not to say private, style stands out in the European alternative music scene as one of the most interesting artist’s personality.
*Carla dal Forno is a singer/songwriter from Melbourne, Australia. Former member of ‘The Mole House’, she moved to Berlin and joined the projects “F Ingers” and “Tarcar”, both under the BEB label and collaborating with the fellow ‘Melbourner’ musician Manek Tarquin (who also co-produced dal Forno’s LP). Earlier this year she moved to London where she is now based.