Italians Do It Better - After Dark 2
Posted on Monday, 20 May 2013 | No Comments
Years in the making. The latest release from a secretive name that still oozes cool from the depths of their reclusion. A stream of rumours - potential release dates, tracklistings, role-call of contributors - slowly whipping up excitement for some back-to-the-future retro sounds. And after all the delays and waits, a link cropping up on iTunes to let the eagerly awaited work out to the masses. Of the two big electronic albums out this May which meet the above criteria, one of them is a colossal turkey whose ratio of extravagant budgets and hype compared to listenable music is so out of kilter it seems destined (once the cheques for advertising have cleared and the public backlash has become impossble to ignore) to become this century's own Be Here Now. Endless Window is not here to tell you about that record though. Endless Window is here to tell you about the effortlessly superior After Dark 2.
The first After Dark compilation was released in 2007 to immediate acclaim from the underground consegnati. Compiling covers, alternative versions and remixes from artists across the Johnny Jewel dominated Italians Do It Better label, it was a perfect statement of intent from the label: a menagerie of acts (many of them led by Jewel himself) all rooting through the sounds and history of classic Italo disco, but cross-pollinating it with strains of post-punk and a distinctly noir sensibility that took their work far out of mere pastiche and into far more inventive and modern territory. It marked something of a high water mark for the acts, the label and even the whole Italo disco revival, and until the one-two punch of the soundtrack to Gos-buster Drive propelling Italians Do It Better tracks like Desire's Under Your Spell to a whole new audience and Chromatics finally unleashing the definitive Kill For Love gave the label new promenance, it was unarguably the best-loved Johnny Jewel record.
It's no small legacy that After Dark 2 finds itself having to live up to, but it's a testament to the incredible attention to detail and honed aesthetic of Jewel and his associates that After Dark 2 succeeds in painting as perfect a portrait of Italians Do It Better as a matured label and sound as After Dark did of its initial burst of creativity. While the somnambulist disco vibe remains constant, there's enough differenced between the two compilations to underline the greater confidence and focus the label now boasts. The covers and remixes that littered the first volume have been removed in favour of all-original material, while Jewel's hold over the label he now runs solely has been well and truly consolidated, with original label founder (and eBay douchebag) Mike Simonetti contributing just one not especially inspiring piece which, rather wisely, finds itself relegated to the closing stretch of the compilation.
There's a chance to investigate some of the newer and lesser celebrated acts on the roster on After Dark 2, and for the most part they're more than happy to step up to the level of the bigger acts. Jewel's instrumental alias Symmetry submits the jittery, tense Heart of Darkness, Twisted Wires debut for the label with the suitably off-kilter strut of Half Lives (which almost, almost feels like Moroder producing Ariel Pink), while former Kitsune act Appaloosa contribute two tracks of distinctly Francophile, metronomic dance that make this writer hope they decide to stick around with Italians Do It Better a little while longer. Mirage meanwhile come up trumps with the trippy ten-minute epic Let's Kiss, whose slow build and vocoders really show up Random Access Memories at its own game.
Unsurprisingly though, it's Jewel's main two acts Glass Candy and Chromatics that dominate the release, and both bands show that their current glittering form is still intact. Coming off the back of the epic ambience of Kill For Love, Chromatics go back to some more straight-forward and pop songwriting for their three tracks here, so that while the hazy atmosphere remains, Looking For Love and the especially brilliant Cherry mark a far more instant hit. Glass Jewel might be the winner with their four tracks here, all of which suggest that their forthcoming Body Work album could be a shift up from the already superb B/E/A/T/B/O/X. Warm in the Winter makes for an unusually welcoming opening to the record, and when they close it with the insistant beat of Redheads Feel More Pain, it's hard to resist the urge to fire it up again right from the start. It's on The Possessed that they truly triumph however: with its mesmerising Bergman incantation of "through the glass darkly", it poises itself precariously but thrillingly between dystopian terror and lovestruck awe, and between the glorious synth melodies and Ida No's perfect and detached vocal delivery, it might just be the most anthemic and glorious track Jewel's conjured up to date.
While After Dark 2 might not have the same historical impact as its predecessor in the long run - it's more a refinement of the label's sound that any dramatic shift - it confirms Italians Do It Better's place as one of the most distinctive and consistent labels out there right now. For seventy eight minutes, their roster comes together to weave together a body of work ideal for the dancefloor, but even better for the long night afterwards before the dawn comes.