Not even six months after Stenny’s Upsurge, Ilian Tape has released another album. Hailing from Turin as well, this time it’s up to Andrea to carry the torch of the Munich-based label. Ritorno is the Italian producer’s first album, after years of singles and EPs released for the German-Italian extended family. The album title means “return” in Italian, which may come as a witty joke for a debut album, had it not been for its pristine and obsessively crafted production. Andrea’s “return” may also h allude to a return to ‘90s breakbeat and IDM aesthetic, broadly shared by his label mates (at least when it comes to long players).
The core of Ritorno is a ‘90s breaks essence distilled through a dreamy lens which – together with his mastery of drum programming – skillfully eschews formal nostalgia and instead adapts a well-worn sound to the present days, fitting in with Ilian Tape aesthetic. And here’s the point: it should be clear to us now that Ilian Tape is not just a label. It’s a sound. It’s a mood. It’s an artistic identity, consistent also on the visual side, with release artworks that aid the music to fixate its identity among peers and fans alike. After hearing Ritorno, I went back through Ilian’s previous albums. I like to think of them as a coherent ecosystem containing the four elements. First we had Immersion by Zenker Brothers, powerful and blazing like fire; then Shreds and Compro, Skee Mask’s double bill: spacious, gauzy and sometimes misty, just like air; back in November, Stenny brought things down to earth with robust, more stripped-down beats and a darker, heavier mood; now it’s time to be submerged by water, Andrea’s ever-shifting percussions and emotional pads flowing like waves and tides.
Andrea sets the marine vibe already with the first track, “Attimo”; its ambience, muffled bass and swirling synth sound like music coming from below the rock depicted on the cover. There is the IDM meets UK garage meets Detroit sci-fi penchant of “LS September”, or the encapsulated euphoria of “LG_Amb” which recalls (both titlewise and soundwise) Lee Gamble’s early experiments with half remembered, vanishing jungle fragments. Water is explicitly referenced in “Liquid”, featuring tear-jerking synths, future garage chopped vocals and that snare nowadays associated with trap. Of course, there are more muscular and punchier beats (“TrackQY”, “Reinf”, “Backdrops”), but even these are imbued with an aquatic smoothness and a marine vibe. Everywhere on Ritorno, pads and synths and drums interplay much like chill breeze and the constant-yet-never-the-same wave flux of a spring day spent watching the sunset on an empty beach. We can also take the album cover as a marine reference, as it features what my brain keeps telling me is a marine rock.
It’s a consistent album that works best as a unique stream of sound, which makes it hard to isolate single standout tracks. Yet I’d say that the overly emotional final triad is probably the standout (with special mention to the exotic trip hop of “Twin Forests”), exploring three different shades of a sound that reveals itself to be much less monotonous than one may think.
Much more physical than classic IDM, yet subtler than club-oriented material, Ritorno has that Burial-esque cartographic quality. This is music to match your surroundings and to be sucked in, gradually becoming part of something bigger than yourself: the urban jungle (currently deserted due to extended lockdowns) evoked by the percussion – always smooth and warm – and the vast depth of the sea called to mind by mostly melancholic melodies and pads. It’s this balance between rarefied atmospheres and the intricacy of drum patterns, between emptiness and fullness, that makes Ritorno an album to come back to over and over again, just like the waves on a beach.