Chalk it up to inexplicable style. When John Valenti sings, he sounds like a man who perpetually walks around with cocktail-in-hand as he haunts some candlelit speakeasy. Depending on the song, he could be laying on the charm with a date, or sitting at the end of the bar in dejection and ennui. That may sound melodramatic, but it's not far off from the persona Valenti has crafted for himself as frontman for the chamber pop band Passive Aggressives Anonymous.
Over the years, Valenti has demonstrated himself to be a paradoxical performer. Equal parts Jazz Age crooner and modern-day hipster, the Rochester singer-songwriter projects a personality that's slightly off-center. Singing songs laden with good intentions and self-involvement alike, Valenti is both sensitive and cynical; self-effacing but utterly unapologetic; tongue-in-cheek but completely earnest.
The persona will be on full display Saturday, January 20, at Photo City Improv, when Passive Aggressives Anonymous plays its new full-length affair, "The Mauve Album," in its entirety.
Although Passive Aggressives Anonymous is Valenti's lyrical outlet, the songs are fleshed out by the band's lush, cinematically sweeping arrangements. More so than on its previous EP, "Not so long songs of longing," the group — which features bassist Reilly Solomon Taylor-Cook; keyboardist Chris Coon; cellist John Delmonico; violinist Elena Ryck; and Evan Wormwood on drums — has released a truly collaborative album that accurately captures its live sound.
The album also benefits from additional compositional contributions from Coon, whose two-part "Mauve Waltz" instrumental and the closing track, "I'm Not in Love With You," only add to the allure.
"Finally we've got a compilation of songs that we all feel comfortable releasing as one thing," Valenti says. "So we're doing it. I don't know if I would call it a point of departure or anything like that. I think as soon as I write a song, I wanna do something different in the next song that I write."
The album includes new tracks, material from Valenti's 2012 solo album, "Passive Aggressives Anonymous" — which set the tone for the band before its inception in 2014 — and previously unreleased tunes the group has been kicking around for a while. A mainstay throughout is the deadpan satire of Valenti's lyrics. The humor is often evident in the song titles themselves, like "Sex in Space" and "Middle Class Male Cry."
Valenti hones his distinctive blend of poignancy and farce on "I'm Laughing Because I'm Devastated," a ballad that would have sounded right at home in the Cole Porter songbook. With an almost faux-sympathetic tone, Valenti succinctly pokes holes at the misogyny, apathy, and fickleness that can lurk beneath male loneliness: "If I go out and cut a rug / And find a pretty slut to hug / Don't be silly, I'm really just frustrated / I'm laughing because I'm devastated."
Valenti the singer-guitarist seems to find musical inspiration more directly from the past than from the present, citing classic jazz from the 1920's and 30's and songwriters like Irving Berlin as influences. Stylistically, though comparisons to singers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra make certain sense, the connection is a facile one that Valenti is quick to avoid.
"I won't deny the fact that I've been sort of seduced by that gloss in the past, and found it really funny, too, and wanted to reproduce that for my own sardonic purposes," he says. "But ultimately, I think the Nina Simones and the Billie Holidays of the world are what really grip me."
Valenti is not one to linger on some previous, proven formula, but instead seems fixated on the thrill the music gives him. "I think it's important to push yourself and do new things, and this band has always excited me," he says. "That excitement has not gone away thus far."