Wolves is the long-anticipated five-song EP by Valentina Pappalardo (who records simply as Valentina). It is the follow-up to her 2011 EP Weights, which started a buzz about the singer’s voice that only gained momentum while fans waited for her next release.
From all outward appearances, Valentina has it all. The sexy Italian-English songstress is lithe and brooding, with thick dark hair, pale skin, and full lips. She looks…and on the surface sort of sounds…like she should be staring out from a David Lynch film. Some sort of muse to strange subterranean debauchery that makes sense only once the viewer lets go of the need to impose sense. I wanted to like this before I even heard one note. I wanted Valentina to be Siouxsie Sioux but sexier, Marianne Faithfull but darker, Nico without the track marks and self-loathing. But she’s none of these things. And despite my predisposition to like Wolves, instead I found it musically boring and lyrically trite.
Valentina is a technically proficient vocalist, though at times it is hard to tell. The moments where her voice is completely pure and unprocessed are few. Is she a raw talent or just another pop success created via studio wizardry and the magic of filters and effects?
The songs here have a tendency to build and then fall flat, as if they are never able to reach their crescendo. Half-stillborn, they slowly slink out and then away, with no semblance of dynamism. The songs feel only skin deep and underdeveloped.
The simplistic, repetitive lyrics only add to the shallow feel of this record. In the title track, “Wolves,” for example: “You see it in your sleep, the howling wolves are coming out to haunt us down…and the road’s in a straight line” (which is, by the way, about 80 percent of the song’s entire lyrical content, repeated over and over). Or the simplistic imagery of “Gabriel”: “Wide awake and I can hear my heart beat. Hope it cradles me and rocks my bones to sleep.”
At the beginning of “Gabriel,” it seems as if the music will become an experimental soundscape. Layers of seemingly discordant sound—soft, repetitive electronic wash, keyboards (and is that an organ?), and then Valentina’s unadulterated voice—start the song. Then things fall away to formula and emptiness.
The bottom line is that music has to be evocative, has to have something behind it. It needs to elicit a gut response in listeners, whether that’s to make them want to fight or dance or fuck or whatever. It has to have the power to spark something inside people. Wolves does not succeed in this; instead it is flaccid, sterile, and empty. It provides no challenge at all, and certainly no authenticity.