Alessandro Cortini is a member of Nine Inch Nails and somehow I never knew it before the release of his latest and best album, AVANTI. I got on board with the Italian synth maestro when I heard his Forse series, but I admittedly hadn’t paid much attention to NIN since The Fragile. I gave each new album a listen or more, but I didn’t keep up with the band; I didn’t know anything beyond “Trent Reznor and some people.”
Yet all along, this massive mainstream band hid one of the most approachable avant electronic composers around. Reading up as I gave the new album a listen for the first time, I thought that it really made sense. Cortini’s sound, which I relate more to artists like Fennesz and Steve Hauschildt, could totally fit inside the industrial pop of Reznor’s band. My next thought was that I might give NIN more of a chance after hearing this.
Emerging from a decaying synthscape, the churning analog swells crest with the majestic energy of Sigur Ros. And it’s good. This sort of romantic flourish brings more character and charm to his sound, which was always elegant and beautiful but never quite so memorable.
Apparently Cortini was influenced after unearthing a cache of home videos recorded by his late grandfather. He was moved to create a soundtrack for this indelible set of images, a fossil record of his own childhood. So nostalgia played a factor in setting up the tenor of what was to come. AVANTI was recorded live on a single synth, the EMS Synthi AKS, which will seem remarkable to anyone who’s heard it all the way through. This is, as they say, how they used to make it. The memory-tugging effect is almost as palpable as the time travel experienced through The Caretaker albums. Rather than conjuring ghosts of the ballroom era, he shunts us through the heart-swelling imagination of a kid raised on video games and epic scifi movies.
I feel like our mutual love of classic video games might have an effect on my perception of the overall tone here. The album hews deeply melancholic, but there’s an incessant propulsion to the whole affair. It’s constantly surging forward with an adventurous spirit, eyes on the horizon even during the rainy, slow parts. It’s a JRPG as a synth-driven post-orchestral audiobook.
Songs like Vincere, above, begin with slow motion fantasy synths, heap on virtual choirs, and shoot straight for that heavenly atmosphere our Icelandic friends nailed on albums like Takk and Agaetis Byrun. Where Sigur Ros occasional turned overwrought and bloated, Cortini stays economical, implying mass and force with a small set of familiar elements. The entropic crunch production renders everything fuzzy-edged and coldly gauzy, a nice counterbalance against the warmer songwriting.