When Homunculus Res release the best album of 2020 so far, “In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni”, I can only lament that I speak no Italian. Because as fascinating and utterly enjoyable as this album is on musical merits alone, I realise that I am missing out on half the fun as the lyrical content is as complex and full of allusions, illusions and humour as that of the music.
So forgive me – if you speak the language and understand better – for my misunderstandings and misconceptions in the following, but it seems that whereas the first trio of albums where dedicated to the elemental forces earth (as in dirt), water and air in that order, the basic components of the homunculus have now been covered and it can now rise and burn itself in consuming flames – or should that be the flames of consumption?
In any case, the title this time round translates into something like “We go around at night and consume ourselves in the fire” which in Italian is a palindrome (try it out!) of unknown medieval origin that also happens to be the title of a 1978 film by Marxist philosopher and filmmaker Guy Debord. Although I am sure there are many subtleties and nuances I will never grasp, suffer to say that the title points the finger to the inevitable self-destructiveness of our current consumerist way of life.
And forgive me also if I am equally naive in my interpretation of the musical wonders contained on this record, but I just received this CD in the post today from btf.it and I have listened to it constantly on repeat until it has induced a hallucinatory state from which I no longer know how to escape.
It is my impression that compared to earlier albums, previous comparisons to the crown jewel from the Canterbury scene, Hatfield & the North, are both less and more relevant .
Whereas the sweet pop melodies are as much to the fore as ever, they are no longer separated by airy interludes as much as embedded in a more compact format with the drums sometimes marking every beat in the meter. This in no way distracts from the characteristic playfulness but rather creates the basis of a denser and more original sound that is less indebted to the Hatfields while simultaneously keeping the same spirit of unabridged creative joy alive.
However, remaining as complex as ever, it is not an easy album for the listener to approach. Again, as a non-Italian speaker, you initially find little to navigate with, but at least there are a few pegs to hold on to, such as the High Llamas sounding ending section of Buco Nero, arranged and partly played by Petter Herbertsson (from Swedish art pop institutions Testbild! and Sternpost).
You may also recognise Emanuele Sterbini (from the equally art pop oriented Italian band Sterbus) guesting on vocals on “La Spia.” But relief is only temporary as you realise he is not using English like he does on his own albums.
Hence, you grasp after the final seconds of “La Luccicanza” that resolve into “Hey Jude” and let you know that this music is indeed part of what you refer to as popular, although it clearly no longer isn’t.
But from there on, you, like me, are lost among the dense and flaming sounds. Yet strangely, on a third, fourth, or possibly fifth listening, you feel the astonishing sensation of being buoyed along on the current rather than drowning in it. You start going with the flow, it no longer scares and disturbs. Minutes later your body begins moving to the jerky rhythms almost by itself as if it where a homunculus controlled by outside forces. And while still not understanding what is happening to your mind, if you are losing your humanity or in fact gaining it, you are realising that music is an elemental force in its own right; music is the very ether that surrounds you.