The rise of Nu-Italo over the last several years is a natural extension of the broader reassessment of various niche electronic dance music forms and their influence on what has come since. American-Italian trio Nuovo Testamento have been a touchstone act for the movement for timing and context as much as the quality of their music; the backgrounds of Andrea Mantione, Chelsey Crowley, and Giacomo Zatti are all in hardcore and deathrock bands, and yet there’s nary a trace of that heritage in the music on sophomore record Love Lines. The whole-hearted and unironic adoption of this particular style of electronic pop by musicians with that pedigree says something about its universal appeal, as well as the not-so-secret connections between the bright, accessible genre and dark alternative music of all stripes.
That’s of course not to suggest that you’ll be able to throw the LP on and immediately draw lines from its eight cuts to deathrock revivalism or the last five years of techno-body club sounds. As noted, this is an unironic and faithful invocation of the classic italo-disco sound, complete with all the orch hits, octave basslines and chirpy synths you could ask for. A cut like the peppy “Perfect Storm” where vocalist Crowley belts our her best oooohs between bursts of vintage drum machine toms and claps could be likened to early Pet Shop Boys or the electronic side of New Order’s Brotherhood, although Madonna’s “Get into the Groove” would be just as apt, if not better a comparison. The connections come through in more subtle ways – hear the rhythmically sampled grunts and exclamations that adds a tiny taste of EBM to chiming single “Heartbeat”, the title tracks’ minor key lead, or closer “Heaven”‘s vague allusions to the dreamier end of post-punk.
Leaving aside the meta-analysis of the record, Nuovo Testamento have settled into a healthy groove in their songwriting and production. There’s little variety in these songs in terms of arrangement, performance or sound design, but that’s not really a detriment to its enjoyment: they can write solid slices of dance pop that place the right emphasis on choruses and melodies, and keep the momentum moving from cut to cut so the album flies by in a blur of disco lights and tart vocal hooks. There’s nothing revolutionary in hearing Crowley deliver simple couplets like “Starry night/shining bright/Is it a dream or another life?” from “In my Dreams”, but she nails every syllable, keeping her expressive delivery firmly in a comfortable and pleasing range without excessive shifts. Her work is just the easiest aspect of Nuovo Testamento’s down-the-pipe approach to identify, but is reflected in every aspect of their productions. The band has figured out what works, and is doing it as hard as they can throughout.
Perhaps as a result of that philosophy Love Lines isn’t terribly diverse as a listening experience. Every song is geared for the dancefloor with nary a ballad or lower BPM cut to be found, and synth and drum sounds are fairly interchangeable. It’s an excusable flaw for the simple fact that it doesn’t detract from enjoying the record’s half-hour runtime; even if “Wildlife”‘s outro and “Heartbeats” intro feel a little too comparable, that feeling is quickly forgotten as the tempo picks up and the bassline kicks in. It’s simply a well-executed record in an easily digestible style by musicians who show an aptitude for that genre’s tropes and quirks.