Album Review: Populous – W [Wonderwheel Recordings; May 2020]

It doesn’t need to be International Women’s Day to release an album fully dedicated and committed to women.

As shown by its cover, a feminine, voluptuous and “very Populous” interpretation of Raphael’s The School of Athens (or a more contemporary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘s cover) portraying music characters who have populated the dreams of the Italian artist from Grace Jones, to Amanda Lear and Ru Paul to Loredana Bertè, W is a recognition and appreciation of women’s personality and creativity.

To record his fifth album, Andrea Mangia gathered together an all-female cast of intriguing acts from the global beat scene, mainly from a Latin and Italian cultural background like Kaleema, Emmanuelle, L I M… He also hooked up with Japanese multi-instrumentalist Cuushe and from there, he brilliantly and glittery expressed his devotion to the feminine element.

He made extensive use of the sounds and influences that have characterized his career, from upbeat rhythms shaped by Latin American and Caribbean styles (cumbia, reggaeton) to more housey and disco-scented electronica. Common denominators: sultry tones, silky arrangements and a dancefloor-oriented attitude.

Starting with “Desierto”, a very dilated and downtempo collaboration with Buenos Aires-based dream pop singer/songwriter Sobrenadar, W moves for ten chapters on a mellow path favouring and flavouring rarefied and echoic textures and counting on “Fuera de Mi” (featuring Argentinian folktronica musician, DJ and producer Kaleema) and “Roma” (with Italian singers/songwriters Matilde Davoli and Lucia Manca) as two of its most inspired and quintessential episodes.

Of course, Populous’ dancy instinct is constantly peeking throughout W as well. Synth parts, samples and beats were made for dancing to. Still, each song boasts its very own nature. Populous tailored the ten tracks according to the musical personality, identity and makeup of his guests. That’s how the female vocation of the album is expressed and affirmed.

There’s no doubt that in doing so, the Italian musician also broadened his own artistic horizons. W is indeed a rainbow-like album, multi-faceted like never before in Populous’ discography, which is comfortable exhibiting “free-range” and showy costumes, like in “House of Keta” (produced in partnership with M¥SS KETA, Riva e Kenjii) as well as wearing far-out and sleek dresses, for example in “Soy Lo Que Soy” (with Mexican electro-pop duo Sotomayor).

W is also what the Italian music scene needs in these times: a project able to cross borders (both geographical and stylistic), challenge the attitude towards female musicians (and women in general) and let people dance with their ears open to the world.