Giulia Millanta’s ‘Conversation with a Ghost’ Transports Listeners To New World (ALBUM REVIEW)


Music isn’t just about sound. It’s also location-based. Beloved songs are often beloved, not just because of the music, but because of the memory associated with the music. Where you are when you hear something impacts how you feel about what you hear. So consider that Giulia Millanta’s beautiful, Conversation with a Ghost was heard speeding through Spain on a train to Barcelona. And the album made the perfect accompaniment. But the album also works in more mundane circumstances, like, say, rush hour on the subway.

Giulia Millanta is from Florence, Italy but now works out of Austin, Texas. Conversation with a Ghost, her sixth album, has an energy that’s reminiscent of both areas. Songs toggle between folk and jazz, with mellow arrangements supporting her strong, intense vocals. Which is not say Millanta belts. Her voice cuts through the mix, in large part because of Millanta’s incredibly sensitive co-production (along with Gabriel Rhodes, her guitarist). But she is also able to tap into an emotional space that lends a weight to her vocals–even when she’s practically whispering them. The title track is a perfect example of this. Just a gentle acoustic guitar with Millanta singing over it. She injects a sincerity and honesty that never veers into over-emoting. Instead, it just slices through the song and grabs the listener.

The album explores different styles. “Coney Island” is a bossa nova that’s a pretty-yet-unsurprising hipster ode to Brooklyn. “Enough is Enough” is more of a rock song, with some nice saxophone flourishes (the saxophone makes some great appearances across the whole album, adding to the album’s European vibe). “La Stanza” has a dark groove with some sinister surf tremolo, a la PJ Harvey at her creepiest (which is pretty creepy). The verses are in Italian but release into a cathartic, optimistic “She’s going to fly away / Into another day / She’s going to fly away / She’s going to find her way.”

Millanta often switches into other languages during her songs. “Violence,” with Italian accordions, is sung in Spanish and English. But the English-language lyrics can be quite striking. On “Expiration Date,” she sings “Hold me until the end of time / Just let the morning wait / We can pretend / This love won’t have an expiration date,” and between the words, Millanta’s achingly sad voice, and the swelling steel guitar, you just want to weep. “Hour Glass,” which like “La Stanza,” also has its own dark surf vibe, has the haunting chorus, “Time lapse / Hour glass / No need to run / Can push the bullet back into the gun.” The enigmatic nature of the lyric reinforces the scariness of the music and the intensity of Millanta’s singing, creating a genuine (but not unpleasant) feeling of unease.

A great album is immersive. It doesn’t just transport the listener out of her own world so much as great albums transport listeners into a new world. Conversation with a Ghost is a beautiful world, where hearts are broken, where Europe is a city in Texas, and where bullets can be pushed back into guns. It’s a world worth hearing, not matter where you are.

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