La Stampa – Bonjour Trieste
(Vinyl Factory, 2018)
by Fred Roberts
A literary classic by Honore de Balzac titled History of the Thirteen described a secret society of 13 individuals from different walks of life who together attained a mystical power capable of controlling the entire city of Paris. In some sense this is an analogy for the band La Stampa, whose six members are active in various areas of the European arts as filmmakers, designers, performance artists, and curators, and who represent diverse cultural sensibilities from the Balkans, all through Eastern and Western Europe, and as far away as Argentina. They unite on Bonjour Trieste to channel their collective powers into ten magnificent songs, carefully crafted during the eight years that followed the band’s 2010 debut. This is a pop album, though not in the sense of banal mainstream top 40. The songs contain so much compositional wisdom as to elevate the genre to its highest potential as an art form, without compromising its accessibility.
The somewhat serious opening track Don’t Rely on Me, shows the spectre of drifting apart that Depeche Mode never got around to writing. Our Spirits (Are Getting Younger) is a rejuvenating song and sound, open to multiple interpretations. Is it about feeling young at heart? Or to be young with the experience of age? Or even the way that the world makes us old (“it’s the culture that kills us”). Beyond that it reinterprets the positive synth-vibes of Talk Talk. Definitely one of the hits of the album.
Une Fille d’Officier gives the album its title, as well as tremendous depth. It’s a love story out of socialist Yugoslavia, a boy remembers the sergeant’s daughter who wore clothes bought in Trieste, while the rest of them wore mud-covered boots. Knowing that guns will be fired the sergeant sends his daughter to study fine art in Paris. The boy never sees her again. Šta Da Radi Insan (What’s a Human Being To Do?) covers a song by Elvis J. Kurtovic, part of the early ’80s New Primitivism movement in Bosnia. Here it contains an added reference to Chopin in the melancholy opening. These two songs bear the signature of band member Jons Vukorep, who fled Sarajevo during the ’90s.
Where side one of the record is more thoughtful, side two is more danceable, opening with Kraftwerk undertones on Surface to Air. Protector Solar in Spanish is a tongue-in-cheek piece about needing sun lotion at the beach. Transformateur is bound to own the dance charts in France, and Living Stereotypes tells of a life turning into a routine, something that many of us can relate to. Jan Verwoert on bass steals that proverbial show. The Chopin motif heard earlier repeats in the closing track Airwaves at Night, which could be a soundtrack for a future film about the fate of Europe. It fuses the feelings of hope and nostalgia that recur throughout the album.
Altogether Bonjour Trieste resonates a transcendental ’80s feeling, thanks mainly to the use of analog synthesizers and electronics (Günter Reznicek) and a clear sense of homage to the motifs of that decade of pop innocence. Through the collective backgrounds of the musicians, Bonjour Trieste is also the celebration of a new multi-cultural identity to replace the myopic nationalist point of view that has caused so much damage in our world.
About the reviewer:
Fred Roberts is a native of Cincinnati living in Germany since 1987 who enjoys subverting the arbitrary commercial process in which great works often go unrecognized. He has a dual B.S. in Computer Science and Psychology from Northern Kentucky University (1984) and a Masters in Psychology from Bielefeld Universität (1999). He contributed short stories to the early ezine “D A D A RIVISTA CULTURALE E/O TELEMATICA” (1995/96), and later to the short-lived Greenbeard Magazine, in 1997 receiving a Google Blog of Note citation for his Weblog indeterminacy.blogspot.com where he wrote 428 “one-minute short stories” inspired by found photos. Fred is also creator and designer of Elbot.com, an award-winning AI system. His interests include literature, film, photography and discovering all the well-kept sounds Europe has to offer. And don’t forget to check out Fred’s monthly playlists!