Clorinde (London-based Italian brothers Andrea and Simone Salvatici), have been working on their magnum opus for years, and all their hard work has finally paid off. The Gardens of Bomarzo has an original concept, a healthy variety of sounds and a solid execution. This double disc is the surprise of the spring season and a giant step forward for an already accomplished duo.
We first encountered Clorinde back in 2009 with The Creative Listener, whose title sounds a lot like that of our site. Great minds think alike. Even then, the duo’s love of diverse instrumentation was clearly on display. Follow-up The Poetry of Charles B. (conceived earlier) demonstrated a literary bent. These works, as solid as they were, left no indication that the duo was capable of a huge concept album ~ and yet, here it is.
The Gardens of Bomarzo, also known as the “Villa of Wonders” or “Park of Monsters”, was created in 1552 by Pirro Ligorio and commissioned by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini. The prince had just returned home after being held for ransom and losing his best friend; after his return, his wife died as well. The somewhat unhinged prince wanted to create a somewhat unhinged garden, and the sculptor accomplished just that. The park is filled with monsters and mythological creatures, strewn about with little sense of reason, reflecting the prince’s grief. As horrifying as the images were initially intended to be, they are oddly alluring to modern visitors, who have made it an unlikely tourist attraction. Perhaps it is because of the beauty of the stone work; more likely, it is due to the unique nature of the collection and the bizarre history behind it.
Each of the 22 tracks on The Gardens of Bomarzo refers directly to a specific sculpture or monument within the park, from Pegasus and Hannibal’s Elephant to Cerberus and the Mouth of Hell. Each track conjures up a different mood: some are playful, some are foreboding. By drawing upon a multitude of instruments (bouzouki, mandolin, kalimba), Clorinde creates an atmosphere that is simultaneously modern and medieval. At times, the album inhabits the gothic and ethereal realms, sharing a sonic pedigree with Dead Can Dance and Faith and the Muse. But a host of additional elements, ranging from post-rock to electronics, prohibit it from being categorized with such blitheness. “Venus”, for example, contains live drums, dark bass, glockenspiel and glitch. When attempting to score the unusual, one needs to become unusual in response. In the case of this album, it’s like seeing the abyss staring back, but smiling.
Clorinde’s cavalcade of sounds is worthy of the Villa of Wonders. Just as each sculpture yields its own sense of allure, each track possesses mysteries of its own. The first disc begins in upbeat fashion, possessing the flair of a renaissance faire. But beneath the skirts of these tracks lie dangerous weapons. The chants of “Hercules and Cacus” come across as incantations, drawing one closer to doom. A single track later, a siren beckons visitors to enter “The Mouth of Hell”. Delirious drums pound as sawed strings and rusty organ provide echoes of religion lost and found and lost again.
The second disc delves into dark ambient and drone, a disorienting choice that enhances the overall production. As one visits the Garden, one may fail to respect the power of the beasts found therein; but once the sun starts to set, one may sense that a sculpture has turned, or that a lion’s eyes have begun to track one’s movements. This may be a Villa of Wonders, but there be monsters here also, clamoring to receive their due. The darkening drones of “Echidna and Harpy” dispel any sense that the park is benign, or that all of its residents mean well. An awesome and terrible power is locked within these stones: grief turned to granite, a heart dislodged from its cavity. Clorinde honors the park, the sculptor and the prince by failing to provide a happy ending. Deep loss implies struggle, and only through such struggle will glimmers of understanding arrive. (Richard Allen)