It’s easy to get lost in Cortini’s music.
Alessandro Cortini composed Avanti around a trove of discovered home videos made by his grandfather, lending his atmospheric synthesizer tones an added air of cinematic resonance. Bathed in warm sheets of noise, the album is both a piece with modern electronic music and a quasi-throwback that evokes the tape hiss of VHS in its analogue construction. Best known for his tenure with Nine Inch Nails, Cortini here apes more the sound that Trent Reznor has explored in his soundtrack work with Atticus Ross, most closely the alternately moody and shimmering material for The Social Network.
Opener “Iniziare” gently rolls in from fog-blanketed shores, with a low bass pulse on the horizon gradually supplemented by some higher, louder lines at the edge of the right channel that resemble the rhythmic loops of a lighthouse lamp, a guiding beacon that leads the groaning object to shore, where the buzzing noise around the moaning tones begins to swell into Vangelis-like bleats of haunting synths. The track is so elegantly arranged and multivalent that it gives the impression of being able to sustain an entire album, only to harshly cut just as it reaches its first climax to “Perdonare,” which boasts a harder wall of sound and piercing notes that ring amid the cascading hiss. The title of the song means to forgive, and the juxtaposition of roaring anger with brighter, more serene clusters certainly fits the name. By the same token, the sharp distinction between the tracks establishes an ongoing tension throughout the album, that of the tracks’ ambient spaciousness and the awkward attempts to corral the tonal pieces into workable “songs.”
Sometimes, Cortini pulls off the balancing act. “Aspettare” has the subtly driving but nonetheless amorphous shape of an Aphex Twin track circa Selected Ambient Works, at least until it crescendos into a howling nightmare that overtakes the percolating motif that runs through the song. A lifelong gamer, Cortini also infuses his nostalgic compositions with wistful recreations of classic video-game soundtracks; “Perdere” and closer “Finire” sound shockingly like the kinds of JRPG scores that proliferated on the SNES, where the hardware still limited composers to programmed sounds but nonetheless offered incredible room for sonic exploration. In the lilting thrums of compressed chords, both tracks recall some of the more idyllic moments of Yasunori Mitsuda’s legendary Chrono Trigger soundtrack.
Elsewhere, however, Cortini struggles with his bite-sized ambient, either crafting pieces that are too formal or too formless. “Vincere” evaporates off the surface of the artist’s EMS Synthi AKS as fast as the notes are played, ambient by numbers that are nothing more than a few wistful pulses thrown together. “Perdonare” marks the moment the album stakes itself out as a collection of songs over a giant document, yet the track’s middle-ground between atmosphere and pop never reconciles its two halves. To get a sense of what the album might have been, look no further than “Non Fare.” The track that best epitomizes the record’s home-movie conceit, “Non Fare” sounds like a bedroom symphony devoted to one’s personal footage. At once sunny and overcast, it embodies a bittersweet mood with only the slightest variations on the core motif. Hardly anything on the album is weak, but this is the only time that the record figures out what it wants to be. It’s easy to get lost in Cortini’s music, but frustratingly not easy enough, and such moments where one feels totally at one with the material, so much so that you can practically see the home movie it’s scoring, only point out the shortages elsewhere.