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Nichelodeon - Bath Salts CD (album) cover

BATH SALTS

Nichelodeon

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.56 | 16 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Bath Salts' - NichelOdeon (74/100)

What is the strangest musical instrument? Some might quickly tell you it's the theremin or the kazoo- fringey musical tools that sound downright alien (or hilarious, respectively speaking) to the untrained ear. A few might even go a step further and bring up a range of rare and 'invented' instruments. I think the relative truth is much simpler. The strangest musical instrument is, without a doubt, the human voice. It's understandable why that notion's so commonly overlooked; even the best singers usually only use a fraction of their voice's potential.

I think Claudio Milano's art stems from this willingness to push those boundaries and explore the untapped potential trapped behind the veil of conventional singing. NichelOdeon's Bath Salts is minimalist in most other sense; with most of the backing instrumentation left up to harps and similarly subdued palette, plenty of room is available for Milano's to exercise every nook of his vocal chords.

The result of this oddly obsessive style is one of the weirdest albums I have heard in a long time. While it's well- possible that NichelOdeon were influenced in part by Italy's longstanding progressive rock scene (this was the expectation I had of the album going into it), the only significant crossover between this and RPI conventions are the vocals themselves; Italy's experimental music scene has always had a tendency to favour vocal theatrics, and NichelOdeon are no different. Claudio Milano's voice is emotive and wonderfully operatic; it's not a stretch to imagine him performing his part on stage before a crowded theatre.

The biggest initial surprise in NichelOdeon's sound is how subdued most of the instrumentation is. Although the music occasionally takes an unexpected turn (hear: the percussive jazz break towards the end of " L'Urlo ritrovato" ) most of the music is performed with the lightest of instruments; most significantly. There is rhythmic energy on Bath Salts. There were many times throughout the album where I felt like I was listening to a resonant harp performance in some Medieval court or tavern; other times- when more lavish strings came into play- it sounds like Milano is singing atop a classical chamber group. That only accounts for a part of NichelOdeon's work on Bath Salts, too. Clocking in at well over an hour and a half, it would be tedious to have taken note of every stylistic hiccup and detour. With regards to the album's overall impression, it should be enough to say that while the instrumentation is never bold enough to compete for the listener's attention, NichelOdeon echo enough variations on classical, jazz and ambient music to keep it charming, even if it sounds too restrained to have kept my attention without the voice of Claudio.

As Bath Salts goes on, the music becomes darker, more experimental; NichelOdeon don't stray far from the 'medieval-chic' instrumentation, but Claudio Milano's vocals become increasingly strained. On the first disc (Capitolo I. D'Amore e di Vuoto) Claudio is soft and warm, with dramatic heights ascending, only to reel in again. Capitolo II. Di Guerre e Rinascite is more experimental. There are times on the latter half where Claudio conjures his inner Mike Patton; familiar RPI-variety operatic vocals give way to a manner of overlapping screams, disharmonies and disjointed sprechgesang. The instrumentation never achieves a fraction of the same energy as the vocals, but NichelOdeon left many of their most jarring ideas for the final act.

While I love Capitolo I, the more challenging approach on the latter half actually holds the album back. True to Mike Patton traditions (if you're ever in the mood to listen to the worst album ever by the way, check out his Adult Themes for Voice) the screechy vocalizations wear out their welcome quickly. Claudio Milano is one of the best operatic singers operating within an experimental context, but no amount of vision or talent can make it enjoyable to listen to someone sound like they're choking on their own tongue.

It should go without saying, but Bath Salts is far longer than it rightly should have been. Despite the eclectic range of sounds, the ambient mood of most of it makes it sound a lot less diverse than it really is. Even having heard Bath Salts multiple times, I can't believe that over thirty musicians took part on it. It may just as well be considered the work of one man. Claudio Milano's voice is a treasure, and most of the album rides on that strength. Just like Peter Hammill (whom Claudio tributes in a cover of Van der Graaf Generator's "The Looking Glass" on the first disc) Milano is a vocalist who treats his voice like a full-fledged instrument. Even if I'm not thrilled by the album's more technical excesses, his voice is such that dozens of backing musicians cannot hope to trump it.

In the end, I'm not sure how to classify this unique expression. A deconstruction of Italian prog? 'Avant-ambient'. maybe? This is a beautiful album for the most part, but it's not for the faint of heart.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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