The physical journey traveled by Franco Falsini, founding member of Sensations' Fix, is almost as scattershot as the music he ended up creating. Falsini has called various places home during his career, including his native Italy and London. But his greatest spell of creativity came in a home studio he put together in a basement in Virginia after moving to the United States in 1969. Naturally, that made him something of a trailblazer in the art of home recording, and his fondness for innovation, for exploring curious notions, for defying expectations, extended deeply into the music he made. The word that commonly comes to mind when listening to this work, compiled by RVNG from five Sensations' Fix albums, one Falsini solo record, and a series of unreleased outtakes, is "free." This work embraces a range of styles, including prog, kosmische musik, trad-rock, ambient, and psychedelia.
The open-ended approach Falsini took to his art makes it difficult to easily classify Sensations' Fix, but the disparate nature of his output is also a big part of the appeal. Anyone randomly picking up an album by the band could be transported into one of many worlds. Falsini's 1975 solo album, Cold Nose, was allegedly a soundtrack to a film about cocaine. Excerpts from it are included here, although no tangible evidence of the film's existence is forthcoming. Most of their music is instrumental and heavy on the electronics Falsini was obsessing over at the time, but there are also curios like the vocal-and-guitar driven prog-stodge of "Barnhause Effect" (from Vision's Fugitives) that opens this collection. In 1974, the band's label, Polydor, ended up releasing three Sensations' Fix albums in one year, partly due to the unusual contract Falsini had signed with them. Clearly this is a group that left a delirious trail of orchestrated and accidental confusion in its wake.
That kind of nonsensical approach, bombarding people with myriad stylistic turns over a brief span of time, explains why it's taken so long for listeners to grasp this music. Only after the dust settled did Sensations' Fix get their dues, primarily through DJ Shadow sampling them on The Private Press, but also in a gallery retrospective curated by Sonic Youth, and via Daniel Lopatin dropping a track by the band into a FACT mix. What's striking about Music Is Painting in the Air is how easily you can trace the central aesthetic of many future bands and genres through it. The bass-heavy "Left Side of Green" bears the spidery cadence of post rock; "Dark Side of Religion" is an unnervingly precise proto-Spacemen 3 cut; "Cold Nose Story" acts as a precursor to the fuzzy yearnings of Bristolians Flying Saucer Attack; "Fortune Teller" predates Ben Chasny's astral-folk projections as Six Organs of Admittance by many decades.
It might be a stretch to cast Falsini as some kind of indie rock soothsayer, but it's clear from this collection that he was testing out ground that would later be explored in a great deal of depth. He was never satisfied to run in place, to root the Sensations' Fix sound in one of many areas that was then (and, in some cases, still is now) ripe for exploration. Partly that can be explained by the era in which he was working. Falsini's liner notes explain how he was one of the first musicians to gain access to the MiniMoog, which he describes as "a tool to forward our sound into the future." That Falsini never had a clear idea what his own musical "future" held is both his biggest strength and weakness. A greater exploration of the echo-y loops that make up "Moving Particles" could surely have led to a moment of inspiration not far from Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4. The fact that he didn't get there, choosing many other avenues to explore instead, led him to somewhere incredibly fractured but no less fascinating.
There are no easy inroads into the Sensations' Fix sound-- something this compilation neatly addresses by laying everything out in a self-confessed "arbitrary yet inspired" non-chronological order. The approach to pulling everything together for Music Is Painting in the Air was as anarchic as the spirit in which it was conceived, leading to tracks like "Crossing Berlin", a pulse-heavy Arp odyssey that resembles an offcut from the Midnight Express soundtrack, nestling next to a series of broody electronics in the form of the "Darkside" trilogy from the Finest Finger/Vision's Fugitives era. There were, of course, some peers of this band. Occasionally their work brings to mind the mix of plastic pop, whimsy, electronics, and psychedelia spliced together by the United States of America. Elsewhere, the understated work of krautrock legends Cluster can easily be traced. But this is the world of a singular, often quite nutty talent, who created a puzzle whose secrets may never be fully unlocked. --- Nel Nayland