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Wed 29th may 2024
For more or less a brand-new artist, Fabiana Palladino faces an unusual level of anticipation. The London musician broke out in 2017 as one of the Paul Institute’s founding artists after her shadowy, classicist R&B influenced pop reached Jai Paul, who started the label alongside his brother A. K. Paul. Releasing just three singles in four years, she caught the ear of critics – Pitchfork likened “Mystery” to “a scratch track from a big-budget 80s studio that’s been smuggled out on reel-to-reel tape” – but Palladino’s output remained slight while she worked as an in-demand session musician for the likes of SBTRKT and Jessie Ware, cycling from one tour to the next. This year, she formed part of Jai’s band for his live debut (which she also supported), the most wildly awaited performances in years. “I’m taking it one bit at a time because it is very strange and a bit overwhelming,” says Palladino.
All the while, she was intensively working on her self-titled debut album - Fabiana Palladino - in secret. Written and produced by Palladino, it has been a long time coming, partially because of her playing commitments but also because of her perfectionism. “I have a horrible fear of putting something out and regretting it,” she admits. Covid slowed things too, amplifying the sense of loneliness and isolation that runs through the album, in which she confronts how a life should look in the absence of traditional relationship and family structures. Made in the wake of the end of a long relationship, it’s an intimate, after-dark record that exudes the toughness and femininity of Janet Jackson circa Control and Annie Lennox on DIVA, exerts the classic songwriting of Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell and subverts the classic romantic Motown duets of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell to unpick normativity in relationships.
Palladino’s references are all big studio records, a sound that she strove for while self-recording at home and in the XL studio. “I wanted to push myself production-wise,” she says. “I wanted high- production value sounds because I grew up listening to music that was made in studios, played by great musicians and recorded by brilliant engineers, and I really appreciate that.” This sleek, distinctive record is testament to her growing confidence as a producer, encouraged, says Palladino, by Jai. Early on, she would send him demos and ask him to produce them. “He would say, ‘You’ve already produced it – it’s there.’ Palladino’s dad, Pino Palladino, is one of history’s most famous session men: she learned from him the integrity it takes to work on other people’s ideas, and gradually understood how to apply it to her own work. “I like creating other people’s vision, being solid and consistent,” she says. “Being an artist is a totally different headspace.”
It’s one that Palladino seems to conjure effortlessly. The self-titled album feels like a classic pop album: its nimble melodies haunting and sensual, the writing elegantly whittled down to turn complex questions about desire and satisfaction into immediate hooks. “I’m getting closer / Still it’s on my mind / What we’re all about / ‘Cos I don’t even know if I want you around,” she sings on the “Closer”, which gasps and glints as two would-be lovers dance around a grey area. “When I go to sleep I’m tired but I can’t dream anymore,” she sings on “I Can’t Dream Anymore”, thrust forward by heaving bass that resonates with exhaustion and frustration at the uncertainty. “I had a significant relationship that ended followed by a period of a few years of like: what the hell am I doing?” she says. “People are getting married and having kids around you, and I was not in that at all. There’s a certain amount of pain in having to accept that that’s not the way it’s gone. But also: how can I embrace that and create power for myself? I feel amazing about it now, and so happy that my life has gone in that way.”
Fabiana Palladino underscores that push and pull. “The songwriting is relatively traditional,” says Palladino, “but the production isn’t. It’s trying to disrupt certain expectations.” Palladino’s pop career is finally taking flight but that doesn’t mean the anticipation is over.
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