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The origin story behind Matt Hill’s perplexingly stark and melancholic new full-length is suitably cryptic: “I had a vision of a man experiencing a series of alienating situations.” Whatever the impetus, Alienation stands as the most fascinatingly atypical Umberto album to date: downcast, subdued, haunted, ethereal.
In the wake of several extensive international tours and a string of high-profile collaborations with Antoni Maiovvi for the Death Waltz imprint—including a harrowing live score of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—Hill began expanding his palette, exploring divergences from his classic Giallo-paranoia mode. The record’s nine tracks flow between winter garden ambience (“Elimination,” “Lost Night”), lofty insomniac reverie (“White Night,” “Passage”), and shivering dirge (“Black Sea”), only two of which echo the pulsing synthesizer night-stalks for which he’s best known (“Drifters,” “Dawn of Mirrors”). Hill also commissioned vocalists Victoria Gokun and Edward Tonoyan to weight certain songs with heavier emotion, using lyrics inspired by condemned Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The combined effect feels out of time, intertwining currents of memory, delusion and beauty, an unplaceable soundtrack for untraceable sorrow.
Alienation was recorded and mixed in 2015 by Hill in Los Angeles, and mastered in 2016 by Alex Nagle in Philadelphia. The expressionist cover painting is Geoffrey Sexton, the metallic gold-foil layout was designed by Tim Goodwillie.