I have not encountered Dan Colussi's work before this album, but the Turin-born artist is a bit of a lifer, as he has been steadily releasing music and touring for the last 20 years with various Canadian bands "of varying degrees of obscurity." His solo project, Fortunato Durutti Marinetti, first surfaced back in 2020 with the acclaimed Desire cassette. This latest release is his second for Soft Abuse (and his first for Quindi) and it is something of a bold creative leap forward, as returning collaborator/producer Sandro Perri has steered the project into a more synthpop direction with the addition of synths, drum machines, and other electronic touches.
Notably, Colussi is an artist who makes no secret of his influences (Robert Wyatt, Lou Reed, Annette Peacock, etc.), but the main one definitely seems to be Leonard Cohen and this album amusingly mirrors Cohen's own stylistic evolution from his acoustic beginnings into the kitschier, more jazz-influenced work of his later years. I cannot say that I was entirely thrilled by that move in Cohen's case, but Cohen did not have Sandro Perri in his corner: the louche "yacht rock" charm of these arrangements is frequently the perfect counterbalance to Colussi's wonderful literary melancholy.
The album opens with "Lightning On A Sunny Day," which is the centerpiece and beating heart of the album for a whole host of reasons. For one, it is simply the most perfect iteration of Colussi's current vision, which is notable because he has previously described his style as "poetic jazz rock." Those three words generally do not inspire much enthusiasm in me (quite the opposite, actually), but "Lightning" is pure synthpop nirvana, as it features a charmingly bouncy groove, strong hooks, and some lovely vocal harmonies from guest Jessica Delisle. There is still some jazz and poetry to be found, however, as the spaces between verses are nicely filled with sax licks from Alex Hamlyn and Colussi remains a sneakily unconventional and moving lyricist. Notably, the album's second major highlight is also "Lightning On A Sunny Day," as the album closes with a slower, more sensuous alternate version crafted by Perri. The melodies and lyrics remain the same, but the transformation is otherwise quite a dramatic one, as Perri adds some very cool tweaks to the original arrangement (flutes, dreampop guitars, some subtly killer psych touches) and the slower pace places a greater emphasis on bittersweet poetry of Colussi's words ("a wish made in a dream dissolves just as it arrives"). In short, both versions of that piece are sophisticated art-pop perfection.
The album's other seven pieces depart from that winning formula with varying degrees of success. To my ears, the strongest of the remainder is probably "Misfit Streams," which feels like a sexy slowed-down soul groove filtered through the kitsch of yacht rock (plenty of fretless bass and stilted funkiness). It is admittedly quite a challenge to articulate why it works, but Colussi and Perri work some counterintuitive miracles in their execution and the piece's wonky charm prevails despite the moodier drama of the chorus and the surreal bleakness of lines like "The jet plane aches to be an explosion; circling the abyss, the satellite orbits the lips of a black hole's kiss." I was especially charmed by the dragging chug of the slow-motion disco groove in the chorus. That '80s Cohen "lounge jazz on a Casio" vibe is revisited once more with "Clerk of Oblivion," but the remaining songs explore some other curious and eccentric directions. To my ears, the most successful of those other veins is the one where it sounds like Colussi went back in time to borrow the softly swinging backing band from prime Van Morrison, such as "The Flowers" and "The Movie of Your Life" (flutes, strings, and electric piano abound).
Amusingly, my appreciation of this album has gone through several distinct stages over the last few weeks. My initial impression was that this was a generally enjoyable album bookended by two stone-cold hits, but the casually soulful charm of Colussi's lyrics and deadpan, half-spoken singing has grown on me quite a bit since. Lately, I have reached a third phase in which I still only love a few songs, but find myself continually struck by great lines and cool arrangement touches that I had previously failed to fully appreciate ("The Movie of Your Life" is an especially big winner in that regard lately). Notably, Soft Abuse's description of one song includes the phrase "breaking wave of dubby, decaying grandeur" and that unintentionally hits upon the crux of this album's appeal for me: Colussi comes across like a great writer who abandoned fame and fortune to live alone in a van by the beach and now just spends his time drinking scotch and writing haikus about sunsets. Or perhaps like a Nick Drake that never died and instead flourished as a Michael McDonald-esque purveyor of blue-eyed soul. Either way, it is an unexpectedly wonderful niche when it works. Ultimately, this still feels like a bit of a transitional album to me, but it is a transition in the right direction and Colussi is one hell of a compelling guy when he finds the optimal backdrop for his songs.