After Dark 2
i•tal•o \ i-tal-õ \ adj + cos•mic \ käz-mik \ adj + dis•co \ dis-kō \ n
DOWNLOAD: Various After Dark 2 | 320 mp3s
Since my days in the mid-2000s slinging vinyl for Groove Distribution as a buyer and sales rep there, I have been obsessed with this label. Seductive, mysterious, ahead of and simultaneously trapped in time, Italians Do It Better played a central role in dramatic shifting the music that I listen to and the music I play. Label owner, DJ, and all around nice guy, Mike Simonetti—I had the pleasure of deejaying with him once—and musical centerpiece Johnny Jewel helped cement my lasting love of Italo, indie dance, Drive, and labels that deliver a full-sensory package of sights and sounds. Five years after releasing the compilation that first introduced me to the label, After Dark, Italians Do It Better is back with a second installment, one that shows again, just how far its sound can go and how much it's also remained in place.
The main revelation that comes with the 15 tracks on After Dark 2 is the distinctive consistency. Where volume one saw more fluctuation from its featured acts, her we meet an unflappable united front of drum machines, cozy chord progressions, echo chamber guitar riffing, arpeggios, and breathy vocals from star power singers like Ida No, Ruth Radelet, and Megan Louis. It also comes at a time when post-Drive soundtrack buzz and (yet another) disco resurgence courtesy of Daft Punk and renewed activity from Giorgio Moroder have helped propel Italians Do It Better's trademark midtempo grooves more into the mainstream than ever before. Simonetti, Jewel, and company are firing on all cylinders and the stars have aligned to make the potential impact that much greater.
A few of the central features here, tracks like Glass Candy's "Warm in Winter" and Chromatics' "Cherry," have been out for a while, but their inclusion here helps lure in listeners to lesser-known acts like faithful Italo-disco re-creators Mirage and Appaloosa, the former nearly stealing the entire show with the searing synths and pulsing rhythms of epic nine-minute meditation "Let's Kiss." If you thought Daft Punk was the only act around breathing life into robotics, think again. The brooding atmosphere established here continues with Jewel-side-project Symmetry. "Heart of Darkness" could have been lifted from a Fellini movie score about a motherboard in danger of crashing.
Of course, the marquee acts that fans have come to equate with Italians Do it Better, the Jewel-fueled trifecta of Chromatics, Glass Candy, and Desire, are well represented also. Desire, known for inspiring sparkling memes the world-wide-web over with "Under Your Spell," returns with the equally dreamy pop confection "Tears from Heaven," sure to resonate with more than one heartbroken teenage girl moping in her room and waiting for the phone to ring. Ida No and Glass Candy also glisten as sharply as a mirrorball beam. The stand out "Beautiful Object" is a slumbering giant of synth chatter, punchy piano chords, horn blasts, fuzz bass, and Ida's singular disco wail, while the aforementioned "Warm in Winter." is possibly the collection's most upbeat entry. Don't let the name fool you, it's all summer sun.
Italians Do it Better has created a distinct world for itself. Here, the close-knit family of overlapping band members and collective tastemakers has handcrafted a wondrous pastiche of sounds, scenes, and styles, heavily influenced by the '80s and '90s and the new wave, punk, and the late-era Italo and disco that came with those decades that is still somehow a sound all its own. Dreamy dance music with songwriting that eschews the unfiltered, candy-coated ecstasy of popular dance floors, After Dark offers listeners a glimpse into a musical underworld of dim street lights, back alleys, and secret passwords, one that's as enticing as it is dangerous, and one that lives up to its name.
— Joshua P. Ferguson