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Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces

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Artist: Sandro Perri

Album: Impossible Spaces

Label: Constellation

Review date: Oct. 17, 2011

Sandro Perri, the Torontonian singer and multi-instrumentalist producer, is a sophisticated dude. During the early 2000s, he could often be found at local venues stoically sipping red wine before playing experimental lap steel for beer-imbibing show-goers. His relentless adventuring through genre and form, from his early ambient techno project as Polmo Polpo, to various collaborative projects like the electronic freak-folk of Glissandro 70, to his eponymous — and arguably flagship — project that began in 2006, are all as refined and complex as the wine he drinks.

Perri’s voice, and musical output, is often compared to that of Arthur Russell, and for good reason. Polmo Polpo did, after all, record a 20-minute version of Russell’s 1977 disco hit, “Kiss Me Again.” Both artists also share a vulnerable shyness that is often overcome by large, breathy, momentous lines of rhythmic and melodic interest. To wit, acoustic tracks from the ‘08 Russell compilation, Love Is Overtaking Me, share a kinship to the sparse, plaintive songs of Perri’s debut LP, Tiny Mirrors.

But where Perri’s first record was intimate and mellow, Impossible Spaces, his remarkable sophomore effort, is frenetic, busy with ideas far too engaging for background. Perri plays guitar, synth, percussion, drum machine and even mixed parts of the album. Bass, flute, clarinet, fretless bass, violin, cello, sax, strings and additional percussion appear courtesy of session players. Each listen through the album reveals additional details from the array of instruments, and yet enough restraint is used so that the layers never overwhelm. This time around, Mayo Thompson’s 1970 outsider art rock Corky’s Dept To His Father seems more of an inspiration than Russell’s downtown disco or bedroom bummers.

From the incredible opener “Changes” — seven mid-tempo minutes of frenzied keyboard-interplay, easy-listening guitar and bass refrains — it becomes clear that Perri is breaking some very creative ground. None of Impossible Spaces‘ songs sound alike, and yet the entire package is cohesive. “Futureactive Kid (part 2)” has a West Coast jazz backdrop not unlike late ‘70s Michael Franks, while “Love & Light,” with its loop inhalations and bossa swing and minor chord swaths, sounds unlike anything I’ve heard lately.

While Perri pulls from some bright places like California and Brazil, there is still a dark bent to the record. Dissonant chords, truncated melodies and unresolved patterns make for surprise shifts in direction, but the heady notions are often balanced nicely by a relaxed, almost improvisatory delivery. Self-reflexive and stream-of-consciousness lyrics add even more layers, like on the 10-minute epic “Wolfman,” which doubles as an apologue and song about songs. The long-winded ascending and descending guitar scales create tension that frames the story well, and during the equivalent of three pop songs, a mini-journey is indeed undertaken.

Suffice to say Impossible Spaces itself is a journey, and one of the more all-encompassing ones I’ve had the pleasure of taking this year. Even after a dozen listens, it’s evident that mysteries remain to be decoded, chief among them the way Perri spins anti-matter and intangibles into something undeniably real.

By Jon Dempsey

Other Reviews of Sandro Perri

Plays Polmo Polpo

Tiny Mirrors

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