Project TO – The White Side The Black Side
The debut from Italian collective Project TO, The White Side The Black Side, is a vividly imaginative double album with ambition and intelligence to burn. The collective has three members – sound experimenter Riccardo Mazza, photographer and videomaker Laura Pol, and keyboardist Carlo Bagnini. The release features twelve compositions divided into two groups of six – the white side and the black side. Project TO’s overarching concept for the album is that the white side reflects the more mainstream thrust of collective with muscular rhythms dominating the tracks and coupled with a mix of analog and digital synthesizers. The first six songs are capped off with live drumming recorded in the studio. The second group of six is intended to be heard as “photographic negatives” of the white songs. These re-imaginings are characterized by dark techno textures while still maintaining the same duration. This is an artistic unit determined to challenge the listeners and clearly aiming for an audience that relishes the stimulation provided by these sort of challenges.
“I Hope” pulses at a near shuffle, but there’s an appealing slight stagger to the tempo, but the speed varies in subtle ways throughout and never settles on providing listeners with one approach. There are no vocals per se, but there is heavily distorted voiceover emerging from the mix near the song’s halfway point and enhancing the musical mood. There’s a brightness emanating from this song and it shows immense technique while still physically engaging listeners. “Sign of the Earth” is a much more wide ranging musical canvas than the opener and takes on a variety of moods and rhythms. The trio’s ability to create a solidly musical and cinematic experience from sound alone has no apparent limitations. “Sign of the Earth” is restless, moving to and fro through almost ethereal soundscapes and far edgier passages when the intensity is practically claustrophobic.
Hypnotic and slightly phased vocal harmonies open “Look Further” joined by spare but steady percussion. Other voices enter the mix, but the lyrics are largely indistinct – by design. The human voice is much more than a vehicle for speech. The vocals on “Look Further” are theatrical and atmospheric rather than intent on conveying a specific message. Much of the musical restlessness defining “Sign of the Earth” finds its way into “Rebirth”, but if anything, the earlier tension has only seemed to expand. The conclusion to the white side, “Roger”, is a lively electronica lightning bolt firing across the sky and never settles in one place for long. It takes a brisk line of attack but never overwhelms its audience.
The black side begins with “Black I Hope”. The paradigm for this side is quickly realized through the stuttering synthesizer lines and lean, hard-changing intensity. This material does take on a distinctly techno tenor in comparison to the white side’s broader musical focus. There’s a dark hue surrounding the percolating synth lines on “Black Sign of the Earth” and an uniformity quite at odds with the white side’s take on the same tune. “Black Rebirth” plays like the sound of a bird of prey circling overhead and searching for a target. It is relentless without going overboard and pushing too hard on the listener. Project TO’s debut meets all of its aims without ever overexerting. The electronic and techno surfaces show considerable variety and there’s a surprising amount of melody seamlessly woven into the trio’s hunger for envelope pushing. The White Side The Black Side is a substantial achievement in an era when genuine distinction is at a premium.
9 out of 10 stars.