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Primo! - Sogni Music Album Reviews

The Melbourne quartet’s catchy, plainspoken post-punk songs speak to the drudgery of life under capitalism, marrying poetics and politics without an ounce of pretension.

In 2004, socialist feminist icon Barbara Ehrenreich offered an astute piece of advice to the women reading her work: “No matter how many degrees the experts dangle in front of you, no matter how many studies they cite,” she wrote, “dig deeper, value your own real-life experiences, and think for yourself.” This advice spoke to an often unmentioned truth: when so many of the so-called experts installed to govern the lives of women are men, every seemingly arbitrary choice becomes significant, an opportunity to escape the grip of unseen, often malevolent, forces.

Melbourne quartet Primo! make music guided by an almost Ehrenreich-ian ethos: Catchy and plainspoken post-punk songs that, while not as grandly political as the anarchist polemics of scene compatriots Total Control or Terry, place significance in day-to-day choices. With their second record Sogni, Primo! sharpen their vision, continuing to write songs that find mystery and magic in otherwise-mundane life while honing in on a surreal, romantic aesthetic.
Ideologically, not much has changed for Primo! since the 2018 release of their debut album Amici; their songs still speak to the drudgery of life under capitalism, and feel built from the aphorisms we feed ourselves in order to keep going. (“Onwards and upwards, say bye to the day, say bye to the night,” sings guitarist Violetta Del Conte-Race on “Comedy Show.”) Structurally, the band has expanded, bringing in Amy Hill of Constant Mongrel and Terry on bass, a change that, along with a newfound clarity in recording, rounds out the band’s sound.

Stylistically, one only has to look at Sogni’s cover art to clock the shift the band has made: Where Amici’s artwork was in stark black and white, Sogni is lit up with neons, a change in palette that feels in tune with the new breadth of Primo!’s sound. Building on the synth-gilded post-punk of Amici, Sogni is artier and less linear than its predecessor, with a handful of jolting production choices—a squeaking saxophone on “Perfect Paper,” shrill vocal compression on “Machine”—deployed sparingly but effectively.

The pummelling “Machine” is Sogni’s most out-and-out punk track, and one that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Constant Mongrel record. A diatribe against the increasing automation of “low-skill” jobs, “Machine” is as camp as it is bracing, the silly, Dalek-y scream of the song’s hook (“Machine! Machine! Machine!”) injecting surreal humor despite the song’s weight. Closer “Reverie” pushes the boundaries of Primo!’s style, the wandering synths that underscore the band’s chanting vocal conjuring memory of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score.

The song that best encapsulates Primo!’s plainly philosophical spirit is “Best and Fairest.” Over Suzanne Walker’s spritely drumming, guitarist Xanthe Waite ponders the decisions one must grapple with in order to mold a good life: “What company will you be keeping?” she asks, “Who will you pay? And who will pay you?” Key words in the lyrics point to the jargon of capitalism and its associated doctrine—rich, company, pay, best—with the melancholy dream of a family floating far beneath: “Motherhood and other dreams slowly come out of hiding,” Waite sings. In this way, they are able to evoke the ruthless exceptionalism of western neoliberal capitalism without writing song-length pamphlets about it.

The central metaphor at play reinforces this common touch. “Best and fairest” refers to the trophy awarded to the best player at the end of an Australian football season. No matter how skilled a player you are, you can’t win best and fairest if you’ve incurred even the most minor reprimand. The prize rewards good sportsmanship—in other words, a collectivist spirit—as much as it does talent. This is Sogni’s linchpin: the ability to seamlessly marry poetics and politics without an ounce of pretension. In the process, they conjure something galvanizing, class-conscious, and profound.

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