London-based, Italian-bred Alessio Natalizia has been crafting bedroom folk pop for the last four years, releasing a handful of singles and volumes of covers and instrumentals under the moniker Banjo or Freakout. He’s been able to arouse a steady following, but the overall consensus has been that his songs lack maturity and are underdeveloped, and though he’s got a knack for pop construction, his affection for lo-fi and hazy acoustics can be determined a bit tedious. On his debut for Rare Book Room, his eponymous proper full length, Natalizia confronts some of these issues, but regrettably continues to prolong many of the same complications. Most discernibly, he proceeds to lie in the shadows of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and his Atlas Sound alias. Where Cox has been able to achieve the magnitude of endearing dreamy freak folk on his past effort, Logos, Banjo or Freakout more often than not resonates a shoddy version of Cox’s acclaimed solo project.
Not to say that Natalizia should be accused of imitating others or attempting to recycle other artists’ themes and posing them as his own. As so many bedroom pop artists before him, Natalizia offers a hushed, ethereal experience on his debut, sculpting fuzzy audible images with synths and ominous electronic samples, tackling the duties of guitar playing, beat making, and singing all on his own. And on many occasions, it works out for him. Natalizia proves here that he is indeed a formidable songwriter, and there are songs where his subtle vocal harmonies are increasingly pleasant to listen to.
His hook on “Idiot Rain”, the album’s highlight, is nothing if not soothing, accentuating the song’s sunny chords and somewhat sinister background. The slow building mastery of “Go Ahead” finds him at his most comfortable, singing in a wide range of pitches and smothered in layers of distortion, fulfilling his pop and shoegaze fixations in a single blow. An obvious enthusiast of lo-fi recordings, Natalizia is first and foremost a pop artist, and this is realized on the album’s more successful endeavors.
The problem of Banjo or Freakout lies more within its lackluster moments, times where Natalizia’s vocals are overly emotional and as a result irksome. These instances, on “Black Scratches” and “Can’t Be Mad For Nothing”, countermand the pivotal tracks that make it enjoyable. His favoring of ambient drones sounds dull at best, the ambient genre being one of the more difficult marques to master, and Banjo or Freakout would prosper without its involvement at all. The latter half of the album sways more in this ambient direction, lacking the experimental pop assertiveness Natalizia displays on the album’s first few tracks. Here is where Natalizia’s structures begin to lose their depth, and the same problems that he faced on his earlier mixes appear again: an overall confusing premise, a jumble of motley sounds floating without any particular direction, a purgatory of musical configuration. Notably, it fails to put forth what other post-Beach Boys freak outfits, like the aforementioned Atlas Sound or Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, could: making memorable music that exists even after it ends.
Banjo or Freakout is not an unimpressive debut from an obviously talented musician. With bedroom pop and shoegaze receiving their fair share of artist interpretation, Natalizia caters to a more traditional, low-key audience. The album’s strengths indeed grow on you with time, but his failure to capture these strengths as a whole is what denies it stature among other bedroom recordings. Perhaps if he sticks with only what he knows and abides the formula of songs like “Go Ahead”, his next record will be more direct, and hopefully more entertaining.