Asheville based singer-songwriter Angelo Gianni fronted alt-rock group Treadmill Trackstar during the ‘90s. The band was signed to Atlantic in that decade. These days, it’s Gianni’s passion project. He still puts out albums with some regularity, gathering musical collaborators to produce polished song collections. But the band almost never gets together for a live show, so Treadmill Trackstar fans have to make due with Gianni’s recorded efforts. The most recent is Goodbye to Analog.
The album comes with a companion script, which can be downloaded here. It may or may not help with understanding the record, which is certainly a concept piece. But Gianni’s retooling of the lyric book into a theatrical text certainly adds a level of intrigue to the project.
“The reflection of the sun / Laid in her eye / Buried feelings in the open forest /
And I barely understand what’s going on,” Gianni sings on the title track. There’s a thread of nostalgia that runs through the 12 songs, though it’s intellectualized more than felt. Gianni’s vocal style is one of cool remove, a sneer almost perceptible behind the poetry of the verses. That track, different from much of the rest of the album, hints at folkloric melodies, though the instrumentation is synthesized. It buzzes and echoes with spacey effects and techy drums.
On the other end of the sonic spectrum, lead track “Life Is a Fatal Disease” launches with fully caffeinated alt-rock aggression. The guitars are nimble and fast (no grungy garage rock here); the percussion is crisp but driving. Sometimes the vocals are almost obscured by the layers of instruments and the electric hum that builds as Gianni’s singing picks up pace and menace. It’s a bracing track; one that says even if this band isn’t touring, they’re certainly not dead.
Even in the energetic thrust, there are dark moments. “Looking for Light” has an angsty introspection folded into its catchy melody. “That town I left forever / This one is turning into the same / Oh why do we try so hard / To run past the length of the chain?” Gianni sings. It’s all part of the story played out in the companion script (which involves a hunter, a queen and four hoodlums, among others). The beginning of the script contains the suggestion that you “Listen to the record on its own. It deserves that. Come back to this nonsense later if you feel like it.” Worth mentioning, though: The darkness of the music serve a purpose beyond the emotive intent of the songs in and of themselves.
“Wake You,” the album’s final track, takes that darkness and turns it into something strangely compelling. It’s a cinematic track, marrying organic percussion and electronics into a kind of moody, dancey, dangerous biorhythm. Like if ‘90s-era Nine Inch Nails met ‘90s-era Rusted Root in a dance battle. In a good way.
The shoegaze-y “Rewrite Genesis” turns scripture into metaphor for a present-day relationship. It’s a tact that could be played out. Except there are some really good lines, like, “So take the rib right out of my chest / Let’s get away from Eden before we make a mess / Put a pot of coffee on / we can do better than this.”
“Baby I Fold” is a stand out for its slow build, its twilit lushness and narcotic melancholy. All of those elements can be found on the rest of the album, but here they come together in a perfect storm of roughed-up prettiness.
Less rough, more pretty — at least in its first minute — is “Inconnue,” which pairs harp with rock drums so sweetly and seamlessly that it’s kind of breathtaking. But this is a song of movements and choreographed melodrama. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it suggests that should Gianni want to take the next step beyond scriptwriting and produce a full-on rock opera, he’d probably do a remarkable job. But for now, the concept of the album accompanied by an imaginative script will have to suffice.