Made of stars
There’s very much a continental flavour to the music of Dimitri Niccolai (aka Tenedle), something the musician, producer and performer has honed over many years (and through a variety of disciplines). Originally hailing from Italy, Niccolai has made a new home in Holland where he crafts his own particular take on electronic music.
In the second half of the 1980s Niccolai was a member of new wave outfit Laughing Silence, a venture that lasted until 1995. Since then, Niccolai has ploughed a solo career under the moniker of Tenedle. This new incarnation saw the musician chalk up six albums, beginning with 2003’s Psicfreakblusbus. His latest album, Traumsender, continues to build his own personal universe – a Tenederland illustrated through songs that delve into themes of love, humanity, loneliness and beyond.
Lyrically, the songs on Traumsender utilise strong visual ideas. There’s often a picturesque quality to the choice of words that build these worlds. On tracks such as ‘Zen’, there’s references to “forest trees” and “darkest alleys”. ‘No Ground’ offers “a flood of fog” while ‘Stranger In My Own Tongue’ is more direct with its lists of poetry, music and sound.
These elements are perhaps linked to Niccolai’s other ventures He has a history of writing and directing for theatrical productions, including workshops for children teaching music and rhythm. Much of his videos utilise performance elements and his live shows also weave in multimedia to present more immersive experiences.
‘Revival’, which opens the album, captures much of the sound of the album as a whole. A steady simplicity to its rhythms is reflected by Tenedle’s wistful vocals (augmented by some female vocals from Susanna Buffa, which offer a counterpoint to the melodies).
Meanwhile, the trickling piano notes of ‘Zen’ have a calming quality, something which is perhaps misleading as the lyrics delve into a critical take on New Age concepts, particularly the idea that any absence or hole needs to be filled (“the only void to be filled is the inability to love”). Still, the dreamlike arrangement works its own magic in delivering a relaxing mood.
Despite these reflective moments, there are plenty of tunes on the album that have a more dynamic punch to them. Take ‘Stranger In My Own Tongue’ which has an easy lilt to it, but is punctuated with some engaging melodies. As a song, it seems to be a reflection on themes of isolation, the artistic mind and the idea of going through routines as part of everyday life. It also employs some clever wordplay in its delivery (“We make love very strange”).
‘Sentenced to death’, which touches on climate change and the fleetness of life (“For all we create and destroy/We are sentenced to death”), suggests a composition that might have a more brooding quality elsewhere. Here, there’s a lightness to the song which revolves around busy electronic layers and Niccolai’s breathy vocal delivery.
On ‘Kanashibari’, Tenedle adopts a more classic electronic sound in an instrumental workout that sounds at times like a Kraftwerk outtake. Elsewhere, brief guitar riffs pepper the gentle moods of ‘Paracusia’.
‘Last Woman On Earth’ is another intriguing number. It’s a breezy workout whose lyrics ponder on the idea of women’s place in the world, but seen through the lens of the iconography of witches (“Hung by the big tree/Burned on the fire”). It’s a tune that delivers a question of sorts, albeit with a bitter edge (“This is progress”).
Themes of isolation are also revisited on ‘Spring Will Never Come’ whose mournful trumpet tracks a fairly unambiguous story of self-harm and suicide (“You tried to hurt yourself/To see if you can feel”).
Album closer ‘Sparkle’ darts back into more obvious electronic territory. In its bright pastel tones there’s more explorations of darker themes, yet always with a message of hope (“The world is a mess/But we have ambitions”).
At times, Tenedle calls to mind the more organic compositions that the likes of a-ha put out (the likes of ‘Let Go’ and ‘Spring Will Never Come’ being perhaps the most obvious examples).
Traumsender is an unusual album in that it doesn’t strictly conform to the ideas of what electronic music should be. Instead, Niccolai is happy to keep his musical options always open. Synths sit alongside piano, guitar, brass and strings to paint an earthy, vital sound.
Traumsender is out now.
Tenedle is performing at Synthetic City 2019 on Saturday 23rd March 2019 at Water Rats, Kings Cross, London WC1X 8BZ. 2pm-1am. Tickets from: www.abnormalproductions.rocks/synthetic-city-london-2019