1. Sundering Jewel (5:38)
2. Hijacked (3:35)
3. Belong to the Stars (8:01)
4. MesmerEyes (5:39)
5. London Rain (8:22)
6. A Milligram of Joy (7:56)
7. Electric Stillness (5:43)
Matteo Ballarin – vocals, electric, nylon string, acoustic and lap steel guitars, arrangements
Andrea De Nardi – vocals, piano, organ, keyboards, programming, arrangements
Edoardo Papes – drums, percussion
Giovanni Scarabel – bass guitar
Former Life was born from the friendship between guitarist Matteo Ballarin and keyboardist Andrea De Nardi, two young and gifted musicians based in north-eastern Italy. Lifelong fans of progressive rock, they started working together at the very beginning of the new century, and by 2008 had gathered enough original material for a full-length album. Electric Stillness, released under the name Former Life and recorded with the help of bassist Giovanni Scarabel and drummer Edoardo Papes, came out three years later. Ballarin and De Nardi are also members of the Pink Floyd tribute band Pink Size; in 2011 they joined former Le Orme frontman Aldo Tagliapietra’s band, and appear on his solo album Nella Pietra e Nel Vento (also released in 2011). In October of the same year Former Life started performing as a live outfit, joined by bassist Carlo Scalet and drummer Manuel Smaniotto (who is also a member of Tagliapietra’s band).
Electric Stillness is the result of years of work on the part of two artists who, in spite of their young age, have already had extensive experience on the music scene. The care and dedication behind the album are evident right from its visual presentation, with an elegant, vaguely Impressionist cover that reflects the understated, autumnal quality of the music, and a detailed booklet including lyrics. Not surprisingly, seen the enduring popularity of the format with contemporary acts, it is also a concept album of sorts, focusing on the close (and inevitable) relationship between the past (the “former life”) and the present. The band’s name also hints at De Nardi and Ballarin’s emotional and artistic connection with the golden age of prog of the early Seventies – which will be clearly revealed by even a cursory listen to Electric Stillness.
However, it would be unfair to Former Life to tag them as yet another nostalgia act. Unlike the many bands and artists who make a point of trying to sound almost exactly like the Seventies legends (down to refusing to use any digital equipment), Electric Stillness manages to pay homage to those heady years while sounding modern and fresh. Though no one will mistake the album for a cutting-edge effort, the music possesses a natural, easy flow, while displaying enough complexity to please fans of “traditional” prog. At times, when listening to the album, I was distinctly reminded of Genesis circa Wind and Wuthering; on the other hand, the emphasis on atmospheric soundscapes rather than masses of sweeping keyboards brings to mind Pink Floyd in their Seventies heyday. Wish You Were Here is a particularly strong term of comparison, with the legendary intro to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” referenced at the beginning of “A Milligram of Joy”. Indeed, though their keen sense of melody anchors them to their home country’s rich musical tradition (occasionally suggesting vintage PFM), Former Life sound more international than typically Italian. The impression is compounded by their use of English-language lyrics, which lends a cosmopolitan flair to the whole project.
The first half of opening track “Sundering Jewel” is a classical-influenced piano solo that aptly reflects the autumnal mood of the cover artwork; the Hackettian flavour of the faraway-sounding guitar complements the polite, well-modulated vocals, reminiscent of David Gilmour’s understated delivery rather than Peter Gabriel’s assertive rasp. The album’s sole instrumental, “Hijacked”, follows with a decidedly jazzy bent, its brisk, flowing pace enhanced by the neat bass line, rumbling organ and sax inserts. The 8-minute “Belongs to the Stars” starts out slowly, with an airy melody that soon blends with the tense, dramatic note introduced by organ, piano and guitar; while the slightly longer “London Rain” is rife with references to late-Seventies Genesis, with subtle yet intriguing shifts between pauses of quiet and sprightly, almost dance-like passages. “MesmerEyes” is the closest the album gets to a conventional song, enhanced by some fine guitar-organ interplay in the bridge. The title-track hovers between subdued, atmospheric sections and majestically symphonic ones; while the above-mentioned “A Milligram of Joy” offers some nicely upbeat moments, with sax and bass assisting guitar and keyboards in the creation of a tightly woven instrumental texture.
At under 44 minutes, Electric Stillness contains little or no filler, and Former Life deserve kudos for having produced a well-balanced album that is focused on quality rather than quantity. Even if it may not be the most innovative effort on the market, it is still a classy album – easily as good as many releases by higher-profile outfits – that will delight fans of melodic prog and bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd and Camel. Andrea De Nardo and Matteo Ballarin have talent in spades, and Electric Stillness augurs well for the future of their musical career.