Steve Albini discourages the word "producer" to describe his craft, but there's no better way to illustrate his work than with Sicily's Uzeda. Just contrast the band's 1991 debut, Out Of Colours, with its first fully Albini-recorded work, 1995's 4 EP: Under Albini's watch, and presumably under the influence of his bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac, the once-dour proto-grunge group transformed into a snarling post-punk powerhouse, complete with a shredded-aluminum guitar tone straight out of Albini's own rig. In the years since, Uzeda's output hasn't so much been derivative of Albini's as it's evolved in tandem. And given the snail's pace at which Shellac has been moving toward its next release, it appears the student may finally have surpassed the teacher.
Stella, Uzeda's first album since 1998's Different Section Wires, picks up right where the band left off—amazingly not sounding the least bit dated, even though the fertile '90s math-rock scene that originally embraced Uzeda is a parched wasteland today. Powered by the lumbering, empathic grooves of drummer Davide Oliveri and bassist Raffaele Gulisano, standout tracks such as "This Heat" and "What I Meant When I Called Your Name" build menacingly toward powerhouse climaxes, with vocalist Giovanna Cacciola not so much singing as dodging the razor-wire guitar figures of her husband, guitarist Agostino Tilotta. Rugged, asymmetric, and positively scarred from the ferocity of Tilotta's guitar playing, tracks such as "Gold" and "Steam, Rain, And Stuff" are clearly indebted to Albini's likeminded work in Shellac. (Or, to split hairs, to Andy Gill's in Gang Of Four.) But with an album as strong as Stella, games of spot-the-influence become irrelevant. Uzeda is done paying tribute; from here on out, it's throwing down the gauntlet.