Three years ago, when London trio Bar Italia emerged as signees to Dean Blunt’s mysterious World Music label, they curried niche intrigue among devotees ravaged by their foggy mystique. The world is much bigger, though, which meant that the music needed to be convincing enough to transcend online chatter—troubling, perhaps, for a group whose shadowy aesthetics tended to bleed into just-as-shadowy songs. Over the murky first months of their existence, two interpretations of Bar Italia’s sound seemed apt: tongue-in-cheek provocation akin to their World Music peers, or earnest slacker rock that only felt vapid because you weren’t listening for the right things.
During their initial stint with World Music, the group released Quarrel and bedhead, a one-two punch of LPs whose stark arrangements and compact lengths left people wanting more. Earlier this year, they signed to indie powerhouse Matador. Tracey Denim, their first album for the label, took tangible steps towards establishing an identity, as opposed to languidly tip-toeing around one. They were honing a sound—a deadpan, cut-and-dried effort shared between (very) amateur vocalists and lightly fuzzed guitars—that left a blurry trace of larger ambitions. Not only could they stand alone, but they were also willing to give it a try that lasted longer than 20 minutes.
Five months later, they’re back with The Twits, an attempt to expand on a tried-and-true formula. It’s bookish, looking-out-the-window music: foot-tappy and slightly unnerving, best consumed through faulty earbuds you have to hold at precisely the right angle to operate. The group echoes the same moody UK rock influences they always have (The Cure, Slowdive), but with a willingness to experiment that suggests they’ve grown bored of mere imitation. The result is a slackish near-hour of aspirant dorm-room rock, augmented with nerdy undertones and a teeny—dare I say too teeny—pep in their step. “You don’t realize it, hardly recognize it,” their voices tease in the record’s final minute, disembodied shouts riding eerie guitar feedback. It sounds like what the Shining twins might create with secondhand Stratocasters in a makeshift studio at the Overlook Hotel: music so unsettling, and so serpentine, that it almost feels as if it’s laughing at us.