Band: Uzeda
Album: Stella
Best song: “What I Meant When I Called Your Name” is amazing. “Wail” has an unstoppable riff.
Worst song: “Camillo” is just OK.

By the time you read this, I will be in Sicily, the province in Italy that is the historical home of my family. My father’s family hails from a town called Caccamo, about 40 km from Palermo, the capitol and largest city of the island (the city where I’ll be staying during my weeklong visit).

This is my second trip to Italy. I visited Rome in December 2006 and it was the best trip I think I’ve ever taken. Not only did I feel a sense of awe at the Roman ruins and the history of the city, but I also felt a certain connection to the city through my own Italian heritage. It doesn’t really make much sense, but it’s a similar feeling I got at Monticello or at the various sites around here in DC. They’re meaningful, on some weird metaphysical level.

I sort of feel a bit of guilt in not having much interest in my maternal heritage. I think some of that is because we don’t have the surefire knowledge that I do with my dad’s side. The nature of European Jewry (well, at least my impression of it) is such that Jews were shuffled around a lot, thanks to some unpleasant government treatment. I’ve heard enough stories of the Cossacks sacking my ancestors’ village after they’d moved to Lithuania, post-inquisition. That’s all I really know about that side of my family; at one point, they were from Spain, then they ended up in Eastern Europe.

Which isn’t to say that my Jewish heritage is of no import to me. That’s insane. I wear a Star of David and am wearing one today, even as I traipse through an Italian island. I would like to go to Israel and learn more about the way way way back historical roots of my non-religion (I’m an atheist, though Judaism is the religion in which I was raised), though I usually say so under the guise that I like old stuff.

(Well, it’s not a total guise. Despite not being anything close to Christian, I do want to see all the Christ stuff in the former Judea.)

But, it didn’t work out that way. Israel is more expensive than Europe and, quite frankly, more dangerous. It’s my next non-Italy trip, no doubt. But, cost just didn’t work out this time. Too bad.

I don’t speak much Italian, which will be a barrier in Sicily, where the 30% unemployment rate, Mafia rule and isolation have seemed to make the people a bit xenophobic. Italy itself is kind of racist and xenophobic — a recent Repubblicca poll found that over 40% of young Italians “don’t trust foreigners.”

I’m writing this before I leave, but my plan is to try and apologize as much as possible for my bad Italian, ask people to speak slowly and, generally, not talk to many people. I’ve been e-mailing with my hotel (in butchered Italian, certainly) a few questions and they’ve been super helpful. Of course, I’m paying those folks when I stay with them, so they probably are forced to be nice. After all, they’re in the hospitality industry.

Italian popular music isn’t all that great. It’s a lovely language, but there’s not a ton of music that strikes one’s fancy. Tre Allegri Ragazzi Morti isn’t a bad punk band, though they’re mostly a gimmick. I mean, they wear skull masks.

Enter Uzeda. Named after one of the gates to the town of Catania — the Sicilian city in the shadows of the Mount Etna — the band’s third album was produ– er, engineered by iconoclast Steve Albini.

The record is decidedly math-rock-y and has Albini’s stench all over it. The bass occupies a huge space, while the guitar screech in the manner of all things Albini, tearing your ears. Giovanna Cacciola’s shout/sing vocals — in English, by the way — sound something like the combination of Made out of Babies’ Julie Christmas and Bjork.

It’s a fine album, with the swirling guitars of “This Heat” backing up Cacciola screaming “I’m a liar!” in the midst of a steady bass line. “Wailing” does just that, with an opening guitar wank straight out of the Big Black handbook. “Steam, Rain & Other Stuff” has an amazing guitar riff, while “Gold” is furied.

The guitar work is intricate, but not in a post-rock way. Like Albini’s bands, Uzeda takes more from the Jesus Lizard than from, like, Yes. So, the guitar is more of a buzzsaw than a scalpel. I love this kind of music and am glad it comes from my family’s historical home, even if Catania is on the other side of the island.

Listen to the album here.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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