Written and recorded during the first of Italy’s 2020 lockdowns, Spirit Exit sees Milan-based composer Caterina Barbieri reacting to that turbulent period of bodily fear, anxiety and existential uncertainty with an album’s worth of beautiful synth music that’s as tense as it is free.
Neither covert homage nor bland pastiche, Spirit Exit borrows from the classic kosmische playbook. Tangerine Dream’s hazy shadow looms large over the whole LP, and on tracks like Knot of Spirit (Synth Version) and Transfixed, Barbieri presents us with enough burbling arpeggios and delicate pads to fill a Steve Roach box set, while retaining a sense of compositional surprise which keeps the listener from slipping into a synth-aided slumber.
It is when Barbieri finds herself in slick, sheeny Oneohtrix Point Never-esque territory that Spirit Exit truly elevates itself from the glut of semi-ambient that fills the hard drives of bedroom producers the world over. On Broken Melody and Canticle of Cryo, synthesis becomes overtly synthetic until we’re in uncanny valley territory; melodies slur with a distinct menace, pitch-shifted vocals collapse over themselves, and a general – but glorious – sense of unease sets in.
Barbieri saves the best for last with The Landscape Listens, an eight-minute-long trip to the outer reaches of the beatless atmosphere. It’s a perfectly plangent end to a record that excels in capturing a specific time and place.