Carla dal Forno has made a musical life composing atmospheric post-punk songs that veer between extreme minimalism and dreamy nu-gaze. It’s exactly the soundtrack a San Franciscan might imagine for a walk in Berlin – where, incidentally, dal Forno was based for years.
In 2016 dal Forno released — to critical acclaim — her debut solo record on the London-based Blackest Ever Black label. You Know What It’s Like is a mostly ambient, instrumental and electronic journey into an ambivalent zone. That is to say, its emotions are at once compelling and completely detached. Dal Forno herself invites us in, but doesn’t seem to care whether we stay. Yet, many listeners do stay, and replay, rinse, repeat. The music is what draws the ear in and ensnares it.
Only slightly less avant-garde than You Know What It’s Like, dal Forno’s most recent four-song EP, The Garden, is decidedly more directed. Each song has a melody, and, one presumes, a meaning beyond the mere soundscape they create. The title track features an arcing bass line repeated with a droning effect, like boots in a downtrodden bread line taking one step forward at a time while a melody rises and falls. Similarly, “Make Up Talk,” bears a repeated percussive pattern evocative of a blacksmith’s pounding anvil, while distant vocals washed in reverb tell a story we can’t quite make out. It is dark; there is something difficult, perhaps a broken heart.
Blackest Ever Black, founded in London in 2010, is home to dozens of artists including, notably, Raime, Tropic of Cancer, and Dal Forno’s (original, but now side project) bands Tarcar and F ingers. The label’s mission is to make you feel something, an effort it embarks upon via pathways of purposeful pretension and seriousness. One might guess, however, that earnestness under this roof wears the mask of the cerebral rather than the emotional poet.
You can find Carla dal Forno headlining the Starline Social Club in Oakland on February 23 as part of Noise Pop.