Sensations' Fix, which also included Keith Edwards, Richard Ursillo and Stephen Head, is frequently referred to as a prog outfit. But given that genre's connotations of bloated arrangements and meandering, fantastical themes, the music presented here is something else entirely. Italy's post-fascist shift was perhaps not as drastic as Germany's, but it's helpful to think of Sensations' Fix in its scope. Their songs come across like an Italian (-American) answer to krautrock, at least in their emphasis on trying to break with what came before. Like Can, for example, they were simultaneously secluded and cosmopolitan (recording in a Virginia basement and an Italian farmhouse), and though influenced by hippie ideology, their feeling is less of protest than of escape back to nature.
This is a fertile backstory, and one the music more than lives up to. For the most part, the group composed with extreme brevity—the longest track here is just above five minutes—but somehow each manages to be wonderfully widescreen. As if to highlight this sense of freedom, the compilation is somewhat nebulously arranged, eschewing proper chronology, which lets the pieces breathe on their own.
Still, a unique tension underlies everything here—chiaroscuro might be an appropriate term. The wispily sung first line on opener "Barnhause Effect" is "it's hard for you to know," but its crystalline arrangement is anything but confused, playing out with the dusty liberty of the open road. On "Fortune Teller," Falsini sings, "life is a strange reality...you don't have to be afraid," as warbling guitar spirals around him, infused with a pastoral peace that's accentuated on its coda. There are darker elements as well. The growling guitar and shrill strings of "Leave My Chemistry" could easily soundtrack a giallo murder sequence, while "Left Side of Green" is similarly wrought with panic. This foreboding provides a necessary contrast. It's what gives the rippling "Map" its easy, trancelike beauty, and it's the craggy climb to the grand, Popol Vuh-esque vistas of "Cold Nose Part 3," which appears in several abridged movements.
Sensations' Fix's music is marked with bucolic optimism, but its sense of conflict is what makes Music Is Painting in the Air so utterly timeless. The political conditions that birthed the group may have changed, but their compositions, at once meticulous and carefree and impossibly striving for some kind of ultimate purity, are about as universal as it gets.