TRACK REVIEW: Black Flowers Café - Mintaka ii



Black Flowers Café



Mintaka ii




Mintaka ii is available via:




Cosenza, Italy


18th November 2015


Michele Matteo Catanzariti Fotografo


IT is probably the final time I shall mention…

the Mercury Prize, because it is hard extorting any new angles and revelations from the subject. It is still hot in my mind but it is worth bringing up one more time. Skepta walked away with the honour and it has sent warm waves through music. David Bowie was tipped to scoop the prize but, as has been said by the judges, came a close second. Skepta’s honour has meant Grime and Rap have been acknowledged in the mainstream and given a platform – there is still a long way to go. It shows there is a wide range in music and we are turning away from the predictable and everyday bands and starting to recognise what a variety there is. Konnichiwa, his winning entry album, was not reserved for lovers of Grime: its messages and music can be understood and appreciated by everyone. Fast flows and stories of the modern day streets are common to as all – perhaps not a huge surprise it affected the judging panel so much. What I love about the album is the sheer confidence and energy that runs through it. It is, above everything else, an interesting record that you find yourself coming back to and enjoy fresh revelation and layers. It may be something I say about many artists/songs, but you cannot underestimate the key and importance of nuance and longevity. Skepta will be a fixture for many years and is sure to develop his sound and grow in stature. My point is, rather artfully circling back to my featured band, how necessary it is to distinguish yourself and create something different. I find we are still producing too many average bands that stagger around and are content to replicate everyone else and commit cardinal sins. Whether it is songs about love and mind-aching vocals; the same old chords and images – we need to embrace musicians that are not willing to conform and have something about them. It is a bit of a vague topic to bring up, but it is worth further discussion. Skepta has shown how mainstream tastes are broadening and attitudes are starting to change. In the wider sense, I have seen some great artists emerge this year that has shown what variation and depth can be found in music. Away from the innovators and spectacular is that batch of past-their-sell-by-date-and-wearisome artists that insist on giving music a bad name. Maybe it is my ranting but I get a little fatigued by Indie/Alternative bands that think they can rock up and get away with the most basic and uninspired music.

Black Flowers Café are a band that intrigue me on their name alone. I do not even need to listen to any of their tracks before I am a little curious and smiling. I am not sure where the name originates but it gives you a little insight into what they are about. They are a Power-Pop band with some darker undertones but have that relatable, for-the-people vibe to them. Let’s hope the band get something together on social media and expand their pages. Before I get to their music and where they come from: it seems a lot of bands are being a bit shy and reserved when revealing themselves wholly. One of things about Black Flowers Café – they have a P.R. firm/contact helping promote their music – is how little is known about them. For the observer or international fans: it is important they get a little taster of the band and where they come from; who inspires them and what type of music turns them on. It is challenging understanding the guys and what makes them tick – their portfolio is reserved for music and images alone. In the modern age, there is an argument as to whether ‘overexposure’ or over-revelation on social media is a good thing or not. If you tell the audience everything about yourself then it can create one of two outcomes: either you are too transparent and open or you come across as aloof and distant. I feel, if you were to put too much information out there, it does not compel you to listen to the music too much – you feel you have the artist licked and their music will not provide any fresh insight. If you give a few lines on your social media pages, then you risk seeing the listener pass by – maybe that artist is not too interested in hooking people in. It all depends on the quality of the act as to whether (lack of information) is a big thing. With Black Flowers Café, there is a little bit of both camps. I feel the guys need to be a bit more open and let people know who inspires them and how they got started. In lieu of an official website and biography: it is challenging learning about them and what their future holds. They are an Italian band but obviously speak English and have amassed quite a following already. I am sure more information and insight will arrive in time but for now, one yearns for a little bit of a spotlight and conversation from the guys. Their Facebook and Twitter pages are very businessman-like and there is that risk of falling into the trap many bands do – not having fun and turning music into something too serious and by-the-numbers. Black Flowers Café are fun guys that have an affection and passion for what they do but one feels they need to flesh their pages out and get a bit more in the ether. What we do know about them is they hail from Cosenza: perhaps not the first place one would look for a new band. I have reviewed a lot of artists but only a couple from Italy. It is a nation we assume is going to be all Opera and Classical: that, or the Pop music is going to be unlistenable or dreck. Some European Pop and Rock is overblown and cheesy; there are too many European artists that fall into that stereotype. I feel we get hung-up on clichés and expectations and that rather stifles our adventurous nature. Cosenza itself is in Southern Italy has a population of under 1 million. Away from the Rendano Theatre and Morelli Theatre; the Old Gardens and Via Arabia stairs – lots of beauty, history and class can be discovered in the city. It is very much an archetypal Italian city full of culture and stunning views but not one of the more productive music centres. Perhaps Rome and Milan has a greater number of bands coming through so Black Flowers Café are a curiosity and innovators. We do not often embrace and celebrate musicians away from big cities and get too focused on the same places. That is not to say every nook and cranny of the globe houses wonderful acts but Italy is a nation we should explore more and realise its culture extends beyond museums and theatres – there is a thriving music scene that is starting to come from.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Matteo Catanzariti Ph.

Before coming on to investigate Black Flowers Café’s new (or current) single; the band themselves play Flower/Power-Pop blends and are Angelo, Antonio; Fernando and Gaetano write music that flows and ebbs; provides plenty of colour and emotion – much more effecting and graceful than most musicians out there. It is a genre that is not as represented as it should be and one feels (modern bands) are racing to harder sounds and overlooking what can be eked from Pop. We get bogged down – like we do when thinking of European music – feeling Pop is limited and sounds like everything in the charts. The genre is so wide-ranging and flexible: you can take it in all sorts of directions and throw other genres into the pot. Black Flowers Café plays in the Pop mould but has elements of Alternative and Rock about them – it is a concoction that seems designed to elicit maximum curiosity and fascination. The quartet has been established for a while but are continuing to grow and develop their music; take in new ideas and influences and make every single/album rich and rewarding.

Mintaka ii is the most recent single from the band, and some would argue, is their strongest track to date. They have been playing since 2011, so one has plenty of material to investigate and compare to – see how far the guys have come over the last few years. Mind-bending (from Rising Rain) was a great way to kick their careers off. Spritzing, kicking beats and an insatiable riff: “Nothing really belongs to you but the moment” it is said. The vocals are rushing and spirited whilst the band is tight and focused throughout. Grosvenor Square is one of the E.P.’s more curious songs and has glitchy, spacey electronics and a heavier mood to it. Whilst consistently flowing and energised; the song has slightly darker undertones and makes you curious. It shows, over the course of two songs, the boys are capable of taking the music in different directions but remaining focused and defined. Grosvenor Square is not as obvious as one feels and will win you with its intensity and messages. Deceit, emotions and poison are brought together – perhaps a message delivered to a lover or friend who has been deceitful? Whatever the origins of the song, it has a definite character and charm to it – the band keeping their native accents pure and ensuring they do not succumb to Anglicisation and Americanisation.

Flip the clock forward and their eponymous album took their music in new directions. More instruments and different shades were brought in. The production was a sharper thing and more polished: the songwriting more adventurous and the performances more confident. Thuban has echoed vocals and bongo percussions; spacey mood and glistening strings – an atmospheric with the hero wanted to be taken away (with the heroine). It is a gorgeous song that proves the experimental side of the band was at its fiercest and peak – you cannot compare a song like Thuban to too many others. The entire album boats that same kind of wonder and surprise. Alnilam starts with spoken word before going off into the cosmos. Once more, it has those intergalactic mentions and oeuvres but remains grounded and rooted in pure emotion.  The album explored themes of love, the self and modern relations but gave those (worn) subjects plenty of new life and uniqueness. It is the compositions that intrigue most and the sheer endeavor and inspiration across the album is to be applauded. Be/polar (2014) followed on and surprised with its consistencies and differences. The two-track E.P./single continued from their previous work but increased the confidence and quality. Perhaps their sharpest and finest produced work: another step up from the guys. Not quite as space-age as previous songs: you get embers of bands like Massive Attack in the beats and solid bass; the vocals hover and glide through the song and it is a wonderful release. Polar is more relaxed and sedate but the twanging, defiant bass-and-beats combination gets into the head and elicits serious impact – a song you come back to just to hear that. Be is a lot harder and gnarling; the percussion stands out and the track has huge force and rush – not forgetting the importance of the bass and how it continues to ride in the mix. Unlike previous releases, the vocal is more defined and clear. Previous Black Flowers Café releases have seen the vocal a little low down and hard to decipher. Maybe it is the annunciation and clarity that is most evident, rather than production guile. Here, unlike the debut cut for instance, everything is crisper and sharper. It makes the listening experience easier and ensures the song has a wider market and reaches further – decipherability and intelligibility are issues that can damage musicians. Mintaka ii pushes the music forward and has more in common with be/polar than the early efforts from the band. The band is at their finest and continues to experiment and bring new dimensions into the music. Production values are vital and Mintaka ii is a polished song that does not distill the song’s beauty – it brings everything to the fore and ensures every note and layer is sharp, clear and defined. Whatever shape new material takes – an album or E.P. – it will be wonderful seeing if the band continue down the space-themed songs and keep that sound in place – or move towards something more mainstream and Rock-based. They look at love and issues in life but have always put a new spin on it. Every time they tour and the more places they visit: the better their music becomes; the band learns new things and get tighter and more engaging. If they were to come to the U.K. and tour intentionally, it would see new sounds and ideas come into their work. Black Flowers Café are a band that keep getting stronger and finer: Mintaka ii is the perfect example of that and is a track that has been getting attention and love since its release last year.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Matteo Catanzariti Ph.

Previous tracks Four O’Clock and Up the River have accrued serious viewing on YouTube and gained a lot of love from fans. It is always hard topping your previous work and keeping the audiences satisfied and not repeating yourself. Black Flowers Café are one of those bands that are restless and hugely innovative. Following from 2014’s be/polar was the single release of Mintaka ii. It has received compliments and great reviews in the Italian press and blogs throughout the world have been keen to add their sentiments and applause. The opening seconds lead off with charging percussion and plenty of intention. The band does not jump in with guitars and bass and make it too heavy, too soon. That punchy and staunch percussion slam gets the track jumping right off. Mixing in some warm and colourful keyboard notes into the song: it takes on another side and takes the mind to the heavens. Like most of Black Flowers Café: their music heads towards the outer limits and has that cosmic splendor to it. There is a smile on the hero’s face and it seems like his mind is on a particular sweetheart. The Italian band is never that predictable and straight-forward when it comes to love and that side of the coin. They never deal with clichés and simple lyrics, which makes the opening moments intriguing and curious. “Don’t let me down” is a line delivered with elongating and effectiveness. Our frontman does not rush the sentiments: ensuring the words get into the heart and are understood. Once more, like so many Black Flowers Café songs, you are treated to an atmospheric and evocative composition that melts racing beats and romantic electric strings together. The vocal is there near the start but drops a few words and then retreats. Most bands are keen to get the vocals and lyrics heard as soon as possible and this means the composition often takes a back seat. Here, we get a little revelation and story but it is the music that is left to paint pictures and fill gaps. The band come together wonderfully and produces something mysterious and spirited all at once. The guitars trade low howls with dancing highs; pairing with galloping drums. Many reviewers have noted how the vocals and pronunciations have changed and become more English.

Syllables are not stretched and given that Italian romance: preferring a sharper and shorter delivery; perhaps a sign the band are trying to gain more exposure and attention from the international press. Like some of the older Black Flowers Café songs, the vocal is mixed too far down and it does harm some of the decipherability. That luxuriant and smooth delivery is entrancing and sensual but a few of the lyrics do get lost and ignored – you may have to check a lyric sheet. Luckily (what I did do) you are able to pick up the most important words and realise the song mixes hurt and pleasure – there is that contrast and some rather vivid sentiments. “Search your soul/Hanging between demons and wonders” is a curious statement and you feel a lover is being attested. Maybe someone who can pour scorn but has a good heart: trying to get inside the mind of a rather unpredictable and inscrutable muse. She might be someone who has a hard time expressing affection or plays too many games. Either way, the song does compel further speculation and gets the listener thinking. The rousing and “Your child memory in your soldier sight/Why can’t you dream?” has obliqueness but poeticness too. It is not surprising an Italian band has a romantic and elegant way with words but it is great hearing lines delivered like this. Rennis’ yearning and powerful voice sits on that blend of alt-J and Interpol sounds. It can be a risky venture producing a composition-heavy song and holding interest of the listener. Black Flowers Café manage to give so many different colours, ideas and sides to the song. It is a beautiful piece that is transcendent and haunting; beautiful and deeply enticing. You draw yourself in and hold to the speakers – trying to climb inside the song and its gorgeous notes. By the closing stages, you are fully surrendered to the majesty and force of the song – all its contours and variations. If the lyrics get you guessing and speculating – a heroine that is quite divisive and unpredictable; an imbalance in love – you are left in no two minds about the composition. It is another stunning and atmospheric track from a band that deserves greater international acclaim and attention. They have made their way to a few reviewers but feel they are just to grab full focus – that will come soon enough. Mintaka ii is a beautiful and memorable number one feels could form the part of an E.P. or album. Watch this space.

Black Flowers Café are a band you know have a lot more to say and many years ahead of them. They play mostly in Italy but one feels they will not be there forever. I am not sure how many opportunities can be found in the country and whether there are the chances to succeed and grow. Like smaller towns in the U.K.: you are limited in terms of performance and crowds and often see artists migrate to places like London to get their music heard. The same is true of countries like the U.S. and Australia. Extending that to Italy, and one wonders if Black Flowers Café will be moving on shortly. They have enjoyed modest success and getting stronger with every new release. Their sound is very much rooted in the Britain and the U.S. so one feels the boys will be moving over this way. London would provide a natural home for them and give them greater potential to get the music discovered and push what they do. As I said with regards their social media feed: they need to put a bit more on the page; not just for the fans, but venues and promoters will want to see some details and information before booking them. In a time when competition is stiff and hot: there are few artists that can afford to expend little effort on their biographies and just let the music talk for itself. The boys produce great music but their best days are still ahead – they have not hit their peak and are still experimenting. Mintaka ii is a great single that builds on their previous work and follows from 2014’s be/polar. Let’s hope there is more in the band and they continue to put out music. Having toured hard for the past few months; the band are looking ahead and working out their strategy. I feel an album is a natural progression and would be a nice step up from their previous E.P.s. Whether they have the confidence and material to put together an L.P., it will be interesting to see. I am sure there is a lot of great material in their minds, but how they organise and present that, will determine if an album is born. Certainly one would not rule an E.P. out so we should keep our eyes their way. Few can deny the impact they have made already and come along since their 2011 debut, Rising Rain. Always masterful when it comes to untraditional and unique song titles (Ain’t it just @ wine spot being one of the most bizarre I have come across) they are not your average group. At least you see personality and originality come out of them. It is not just their song titles and cover art that separates them from their peers. With Black Flowers Café you get the impression they are going to be favoured around the globe but just need that opportunity and lead. Most of their touring is confined to Italy but it is only a matter of time before demand comes from around the globe and they are covering the continents.

Before closing this down, I will just briefly return to my opening subjects and how music is changing – the way we view modern music and narrow our minds. Not to bring Skepta’s name up again – it will not mean a lot to Black Flowers Café – but I am excited to see modern music change directions and become less suppressive and restrained. In the past, we have been exposed to critically-approved musicians that all sort of blend into one another. If you take a thing like the Mercury Prize and there was a period when it was rather formulaic and run-of-the-mill. The best artists were recognised, but in terms of genres and sounds, it did not push boundaries and progress at all. Rock and Pop were preferred and one would never consider how far along the award ceremony would evolve. In the last couple of years, we are seeing that shift and away-from-the-mainstream genres and acts are being acknowledged. It is a sign music in general is widening and attitudes are altering. The celestial, river-flow songs of Black Flowers Café is the sort of music that deserves more focus and getting itself heard wider than Italy. Of course, the guys have fans across the globe but there are more faces and crowds that have not discovered them yet. As a group, they seem like everyone else (on paper and image) but the music itself has something extra and special – that little hint of magic in the air. Quite hard to truly explain but you just know it will get into the brain and float around for days on end. Many people have been scared off Pop because they see it is chart fodder and envisage a certain type of artists. Maybe the mass-produced, faceless magazine star that has little personality or anything about them – all looks and generic sounds. If you look closely, you’ll find realise just how expansive and surprising Pop is. The Black Flowers Café boys play Flower-Pop with a little bit of Alternative and that works just fine. If you look on their social media you will see the hashtag #flow emerge and reappear. That suggests either an album or E.P. – perhaps a song is on its way? It has been a while since Mintaka ii but people are talking of it still and it is getting people hungry for more material. When that does arrive, and what form Flow takes, the four-piece are making plans and keeping the waggon rolling. They are seducing Italian crowds but there will be people over here (and around the world) that would like to see the guys in the flesh. Let’s hope, sooner rather than later, the band takes some time and…

PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Matteo Catanzariti Ph.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Matteo Catanzariti Fotografo