Davide Borghi and his project Albireon come highly recommended, having collaborated with legends such as Ian Read of Fire + Ice, Sonne Hagal, and David E. Williams, to name but a few. Though such associations inevitably set up great expectations, it is best to let the work—in this case, L’Inverno e l’Aquilone (Winter and the Kite), speak for itself.
The first aspect of the album that strikes you is, of course, the artwork—beautifully executed, sad, wasting watercolor figures that instantly radiate a deep and numb sadness. The work of artist Massimo Romagnoli not only plays a big role in the visual aspect of Albireon albums, but also often indirectly inspires the content: a symbiosis of vision and sound. The dismal yet rich visual world sets up a kind of universe within which the poetry and music of Albireon dwells, its characters telling their stories and its musical landscapes stretching across the horizon.
The album opens with a surprisingly warm guitar-based ballad that is reminiscent of something you might sing with friends in intimate company after a few drinks (a feeling given off by many tracks on the album). It flows smoothly into the next two songs, both guitar pieces with a faster tempo and a rousing, wholesome folk vibe. I was beginning to feel a serious dissonance between the fairly traditional and warm feel of the music and the cold, forlorn design of the album—that is, until “Gli Aironi,” where things start getting weird. Mentions of nineteenth century feral child Kaspar Hauser and twentieth century housewife Magda Goebbels woven into the same song (used to set up an unusual and chilling metaphor for childhood’s innocence in a manner reminiscent of former collaborator David E. Williams) can only be a good omen, and indeed the album only gets colder and darker from there. The lyrics are a mix of Italian and English, with Italian dominating the next several tracks as they gradually descend deeper and deeper away from warm nostalgia into cold melancholy.
“Beslan 2004” makes a sudden break from the dark fairytale world that has been building so far to reference a very real and extremely tragic event. “Beslan” is dedicated to the 2004 massacre of close to 400 innocent people (over half of them children) in occupied Ossetia. On September 1st, 2004—a day traditionally celebrated as the beginning of the school year in countries of the former USSR, with balloons, flowers, and small presents for children setting out to school—Islamic extremists occupied a school in the Ossetian city of Beslan. The siege lasted for three days, culminating in a storming of the school by Russian military forces which left the hostage takers—and close to 200 children—dead. The emotional impact of this event does not require much explanation, thus it makes sense that the track is wordless, save for the babbling of a child—sometimes just innocent noise, sometimes bits and pieces of coherent words. The music framing the sunny and innocent voice is hollow and cold. The song is a disquieting tribute to the innocent, instilling in the listener the very uneasy feeling of wandering through a cold, dark, destroyed corridor where children once laughed and played, safe and unaware of the fate awaiting them. For me, and probably many other listeners, this track will be the most haunting despite its simplicity and lack of words.
Upon first seeing the real-world events referenced in the song titles and liner notes, I assumed the album may be themed around the facts of the tragedy, or in general about the most vulnerable victims of human violence. I was partially right: L’Inverno e l’Aquilone is not bound by a concrete subject but rather by the overarching idea of lost childhood. Some songs directly reference children being spirited away or lost, some allegorically allude to the bitter feeling of fleeting innocence. Upon listening through a second time, the connections become more apparent—previously overlooked, no doubt due to the language barrier, and the erstwhile confusion about the incongruous contrasts of some of the songs partially dissipates as well. The songs surrounding the Beslan piece seem to serve as a sort of thematic cradle—setting the mood/intention with soft, sad music and lyrics in preparation for a topic too brutal for words. Perhaps most forthcoming is “The Stolen Child,” which is simply W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child”—a story of a child being lured away from the cold world of mortals to a painless fairyland—set to music. “Park of Silent Angels” continues in the same vein: a sad lullaby about night coming to put a lost child to sleep and “Angels playing on swings that touch the sky,” and “The Black Harbour” whispers about ghosts and drowning against the backdrop of gentle, bleak guitar strums and what sounds like breathing. Combined with Romagnelli’s imagery of sad distorted childlike beings wandering through a forlorn featureless setting, the songs come together into a sort of dark collection of fairytales with the air of stolen innocence and its relevance to the featured track becoming obvious. A sad welcome to a world of lost children.
An album that defies strict categorization or dissection, L’Inverno e l’Aquilone is almost somewhat schizophrenic—one part offering the classic and comforting neofolk guitar melancholia, the other delving into something much colder, much darker, and much less pleasant. Altogether, it is simply another corner of the multi-faceted, melancholy Albireon universe. Only this time, it draws some of its sadness from the very real world of man’s endless inhumanity to man—an inhumanity so endless it often extends to the defenseless, innocent, and vulnerable. “Come away, O human child…For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
01) L’Inverno a l’Aquilone
02) Sentieri di Crinale
03) Through Winter Fires
04) Gli Aironi
08) The Stolen Child
09) Nel Regno di Erevlost
10) Park of Silent Angels
11) The Black Harbour
12) Beslan 2004
13) Imbrunire (Hide & Seek Version)