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Cleptophonic – Movente

Instrumental albums have long long been seen as largely inaccessible to general audiences. Movente is no exception, but the way that it deftly weaves through themes and genres makes it worthy of respect if nothing else. Movente is the debut album from Cleptophonic, a mysterious Italian DJ who allegedly has a longstanding career but who is now producing work under a new alias.

The album is described in its press release as an “autobiographical collage of experimental trip hop sounds” and this little piece of context makes a world of difference. Going in blind without any background, the work comes across mostly as inane experimental doodling. However, with the extra knowledge you can see that at least most of the pieces of the puzzle seem to serve a purpose. David Bowie once described the instrumentals of his Berlin Trilogy as “portrait pieces” and you can see a similar logic at work on Movente.

“Degrade” is the album’s opener and one of its weaker tracks. It’s dominated by probing synth pads, some kind of dripping effect and not much else. Running at just over two minutes, the piece isn’t long enough to be overly indulgent, but outside of film scoring it’s hard to imagine what setting it would be fitting to actually hear in. The pads of the opening section suggest you’re about to hear some kind of Brian Eno-esque relaxing ambience but the overall tempo leans closer to EDM without ever fully crossing the line either way.

“Space92” takes the pinch of “Degrade”’s ambience but commits to the trip hop atmosphere. There’s lush synthesiser work dancing between the left and right channels but this time it’s all anchored by a slow 808 drum machine rhythm. It might not reach “dance club” levels but you get the feeling it’s not trying to – it’s actually a very serene track, something you might listen to after particularly long day.

“JZz65” wipes the slate clean and starts fresh. The 808 is gone and replaced by an acoustic kit, albeit one with each piece seemingly sampled and spliced. There’s still interesting synth treatments going on in the background but they really play second fiddle to an almost unsettling electronic bassline. Bongo drums come in and out to punctuate the rhythm and bearing the title in mind, it can be hard to tell if the track is an homage to, or satire of, jazz. That’s not to say the track isn’t interesting but it’s slightly less approachable than “Space92”.

“Dust” continues the use of acoustic drums but leaves the jazz grooves behind for more of a DnB-style aesthetic. The tempo doesn’t reach the extremes associated with that genre but it’s the first track that has a definite feel of pace to it. The drums are punchy and dominant, but the modulated bassline reaches out and leads you through three minutes of the song. It’s at the conclusion though that the album takes yet another sharp stylistic turn.

“So I Go” is the first track to remind you that this album is meant to be an “autobiographical collage”. The delayed guitar plucks a la Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (1971) work to conjure up some kind of peaceful seaside scene. They’re complimented by beautiful slide guitar and what sounds like gentle playing of a thumb harp. Eventually a simplistic piano line enters before a brief but delicate guitar solo bids the whole thing farewell. All in all, the track comes across as somewhat of an interlude.

“Odissey” is a return to the central trip hop style of Movente. It’s a similar tempo to “Dust”, but the electronic percussion and recurring synth-string melody make for a more comforting atmosphere. Starting with simplistic plucks, it builds with more signature pads and rhythms. Its a formula that’s repeated in the following track, “Five”, which also introduces a stripped-back musical idea to begin with. In this case it’s a thumping bass drum accompanied by more acoustic snare samples. It’s probably one of the most danceable tracks, owing mostly to its simple but hypnotic bass. It’s also emblematic of the strange place the whole album finds itself in, seemingly wanting to be dancy and approachable but reluctant to give up on sonic doodling.

“Capture” finds itself in on the same footing and covers similar ground as before, but without being as interesting. It follows the same recipe most of the album does; beats, introduce pads, strip back to beats, continue. The difference being that the other tracks distract or entice you with a surprising instrument choice or effect. “Capture” is undeniable trip hop; it’s just not as inspired as its predecessors. Luckily, things pick up again for the remainder of the album.

“Wrong Place” has the distinction of being the only track with distinguishable vocals. Besides that, it probably comes closest to bridging the different sensibilities of the album. It introduces a quintessential trip hop beat but it’s peppered with distorted saw tooth tones and even some foley type sound samples. This is all without mentioning the regular vocal interjections announcing the title of the track. At 5:16, it’s the longest track but it perfectly sums up the heart of the album, albeit ominously.

“BB” on the other hand brings back the lighter, dreamier timbre from much earlier in the album. The rhythm is interesting enough at first but the track would certainly have benefitted from being about a minute shorter. Next, “Insane” introduces a style reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates” (2001). The reversed tones and drum samples give the impression of everything falling down, lowering the veil. Given the inspiration of the final track, it makes even more sense.

“Bonheur” is a brief track that Cleptophonic dedicated to his mother after her untimely passing. It has little in common with the rest of the album, doing away with electronic drums and pads for a mournful yet bittersweet orchestral composition. The strings initially start against the sounds of a storm before the chirps of birds gradually fade in. It’s a short song and yet it has so much to say, starting in grief and eventually finding a form of acceptance all without a single lyric. Say what you will about the other tracks but “Bonheur” serves as an elegant album closer and a fine piece of music in its own right.

Crafting an album as a singular body of work sometimes seems like a lost art form these days but Cleptophonic has produced an admirable work in Movente. It’s far from perfect and undoubtedly requires multiple listens, but give yourself the chance to be more appreciative of its eccentricities, and you’ll discover a calming soundtrack to make your worries slip away.