Tomaga & Pierre Bastien – Bandiera Di Carta

3 out of 5

Label: Other People

Produced by: Rashad Becker (mastered by, mixed by)

Over the course of Pierre Bastien’s career – or at least the relatively small sliver to which I’ve been able to listen – I’ve been consistently impressed how his seemingly limited approach of music played by self-crafted automatons has proven out to be not limited at all. Album after album, 2+ decades on, and Bastien always delivers something unique and engaging. Yes, maybe I’ll prefer a mood of one album over another – and that is the case here, in his team-up with duo Tomaga, ultimately falling into the mid-range of Bastien-related projects – but they’re always things that are worth listening to, and that is also the case here.

Before getting to my main criticism of ‘Bandiera Di Carta,’ though, I want to highlight the thing that jumps out, and makes it, perhaps ironically, an essential listen, even if it’s not overall the best: that this is the first time I’ve been unable to identify the line between Pierre’s tick-tock rhythms and those of his accompaniment. Bandiera is so brilliantly arranged (and dis-arranged) as to blur what’s electronic and organic; what’s programmed and what’s improved. And for the core of every track, that results in some truly driving and mesmeric music, leaning in to a darker and rather haunting mood at points, then suddenly perked up by surprisingly poppy drumwork. When this is iterated upon, we get some amazing work, such as opener Senza, or The Meeting; tracks that build and grow, drawing you in with sneaky intensity. And then we’ll dial back for drone – such as on the title track – that can be equally effective, though the sequencing offsets this effect a bit, as this can be sandwiched between more comparatively upbeat numbers.

But the larger issue I had with Di Carta is more that it doesn’t dial in this decisiveness for most of its runtime. Tracks don’t wander, exactly, but they feel restrained from either letting loose or finding an exact focus, leading to those cores – though, as mentioned, impressive – not evolving most of the time; we start out strong, and then we hang there. This sensation largely takes over for the latter half of the album, though it is the kind of record that rewards relistens to get the most out of it. And the praise I started with – the unique application of Pierre’s methods – definitely remains throughout, making all of the songs, at the very least, interesting curiosities, with the A-side’s tracks making for the most consistently impressive material.