Between before and now; between reality and imagination; between memory and remembering. Federico Albanese’s stunning new album Before And Now Seems Infinite captures and inhabits these moments and passages of time. Each exquisitely rendered fusion of modern-classical and electronic hues with traces of jazz and avant-garde pop, is inspired by a specific memory and the suggestion that, in the words of French novelist Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
“There are multiple ways in which we perceive a memory,” says composer and multi-instrumentalist Albanese, who grew up in Milan and now calls Berlin home. “We might remember things from different angles and give them different meanings. I find it interesting to explore the instant where we decide how we are going to remember something. And music is the vehicle I use to find these moments, to hold them in time.”
Before And Now Seems Infinite is Albanese’s debut album for Universal Music Group’s genre-defying imprint Mercury KX, following 2018’s By The Deep Sea and his soundtrack to the 2019 documentary Twelve, with its timely themes of spirituality, ecology and community. Albanese is clearly on a roll, as the new album is his third diverse release on Mercury KX in nine months, following The Moments We Keep in July 2021, a collaborative EP with Irish/Norwegian singer-songwriter Tara Nome Doyle, and a spontaneously recorded solo piano EP Fredenwade – Teil I in October 2021. The roots of Before And Now Feels Infinite, however, precede both EPs, starting with new demos laid down in the summer of 2019.
“This has been a long journey,” Albanese says, “much more than my previous albums. By The Deep Sea was done in a month, for example.”
It was a period of several writing and recording bouts, Albanese admits, as he doubted the strength of his songs and the best equipment to illuminate his compositions, including switching between a grand piano, mini-piano (pianette) and upright piano. “Things depended on what I wanted to describe,” he says. But patience and experimentation has created Albanese’s most diverse, adventurous and richest album yet, balanced beautifully between light and dark, between fragile, meditative calm and tension / edge, splicing intimate detail and intense drama. “I think you can feel that the music is carrying something, a message or an idea,” says Albanese. “It’s not just random sound.”
Piano is Albanese’s main instrument but he also handles electronics, synthesisers, electric guitar, bass, field recordings, flute, clarinet, melodica and tape processing. The album’s co-engineer Simon Goff also features on violin (plus co-production, Moog and electronic processing on ‘March’) with Arthur Hornig on cello plus two special guest singers: Marika Hackman and Ghostpoet (Obaro Ejimiwe), British artists who, like Albanese, defy easy categorisation.
“In the first studio session for the album,” Albanese recalls, “I thought, we must have vocals.” He had two songs in mind. The music for ‘Summerside’ had been inspired by a photo taken by his father of his wife and their four-year-old son Federico, on holiday on the North Italian coast. “It was a great time,” Albanese recalls 35 years on, “but troubling too, because my parents were fighting. Or maybe the place just felt sad to me. I don’t remember it exactly.” Albanese sent the music to Hackman, who he had seen live several times and had long wanted to work with. “Marika was willing, and we had a long chat,” he says. “She asked questions about the music, and then wrote her beautiful lyric.”
Albanese was equally a Ghostpoet fan, “and this piece I’d written, which became ‘Feel Again’ felt like it was made for him, sub-consciously anyway. He’d just moved to Berlin, so we met, and I sent him the music. He asked less about my own motivation, and what he wrote was mind-blowing. For me, his words are about a change of life, or an attempt to change, which I’ve experienced many times myself.”
Hackman and Ghostpoet’s presence are further proof that Albanese is a maverick presence in the neo-classical universe, and how Before And Now Feels Infinite is a step beyond his previous four albums. But then Albanese has always kept moving. Classically trained from the age of six, the teenage Federico got into punk and jazz, learning the clarinet, but also bass guitar. He played in several punk and rock bands but was a big fan of ambient music. In 2010, he formed La Blanche Alchimie with his life partner Jessica Einaudi, forging a more folky dream-pop connection. As the couple moved to Berlin in search of a more vibrant music scene, Albanese started composing on piano again, and released his debut album The Houseboat And The Moon in 2014.
“The best artists push boundaries, and don’t repeat themselves,” he says. “That’s way more inspiring for me. I wanted more edge in terms of arrangement this time. Don’t make the background strings clean and in the background, as it mostly is in modern classical. Challenge the musicians. For example, on ‘The Quiet Man’, there is a complex arpeggio that goes on and on.”
‘The Quiet Man’ is the first single from Before And Now Feels Infinite, “It’s another sign that something new is coming along from me,” the composer says. “It sounds more like jazz than modern classical.” The music was inspired by Albanese’s father. “He was apparently not a quiet man, but had a reserved side, which I never really understood, nor saw. We all have multiple personalities, some on the surface and others buried. My father was like that, or that’s the way my mind decided to remember him. The structure of the piece embodies this idea, with multiple layers, some more melodic, others more obsessive.”
Family is key for Albanese. ‘Teodora And Her Mysteries’ is named after his and Einaudi‘s daughter. “We were driving home from the hospital after Teodora was born and I just imagined this melody in my head, and started singing along,” he says. “It’s never really happened to me before.” ‘Sand And Castles’ is linked to the couple’s son, Julian: during Berlin’s first lockdown, the family walked in the woods outside of the city every day, and Julian insisted they keep returning to the same tree. “He liked the familiarity, but it was also like he was afraid he would forget the tree. One day, the tree was gone. I thought of how sandcastles only exist for a time. I’m imagining how my children will remember certain moments when they are my age.”
‘Was There a Time’ is a more sombre composition, “a reflection on all the lost times we had in our life. Those moments that could have been different, or that we didn’t live for real because we were overwhelmed by something else.” The track title comes from a Dylan Thomas poem, likewise the album title. “For me, it’s an allegory or metaphor of time. Our memories have got to be somewhere on the infinity line, so let’s use music to go back and catch it.”
The album’s bookends, “embrace the idea of perception of memories,” but from different angles. A serene ‘The Vine’ mirrors a happy time, “a place in northern Italy that changed my life,” says Albanese. By contrast, a ghostly ‘Before And Now’ was recorded, “in a moment of extreme confusion. But I exorcised that experience with this music, and have moved on.”
Ultimately, Before And Now Feels Infinite is not only a beautiful and haunting collection of memories but a portrait of the artist, in all his multiple layers of emotion and experience, with a new memory; Albanese’s most profound and moving album yet, and a signpost to a future of new memories and scaling new musical heights.