The Alps


(Type; 2008)

By George Bass | 9 August 2008

Now here’s something just aching to be diced and shot out across flexi discs: a psych-folk record that actually packs a prominent added zing, so much so that it could almost be a detailed analysis of drugs rather than a half-remembered echo of them. Mountain men the Alps (not really, though they do hail from the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid) are a trio of San Francisco survivors who’ve weathered the storm of their various ex-projects, cutting their teeth over two CD-Rs, and now striking their seminal rictus with the help of those trustees at Type—ambient molars invisibly grinding, cinematic fangs dripping tension from the smile. If your stomach is already in turmoil at the thought of yet more sediment to be added to the boring magma of nu-folk, then you’ll be pleased to hear III is an intriguing detour from the gargle of sun-stricken psychedelia we’ve had to endure of late. The Alps’ intentions are to seduce their listeners rather than merely blind them and they use their trippy nature doc here to show exactly how heinousness should be handled: with precision, erupting in slo-mo into mutant pupae and minus the need for narration.

With a span of almost three-quarters of an hour, the eight components of III are on the fat side of five minutes per head, though each imbued with sufficient ingenuity to stave off the threat of bloating. The combined effect is that of something concise but epic, and therefore more typically prone to replays and repeated future dissection. “Labyrinths” opens to the sound of a Savage Garden keyboard ballad, eventually shuffling off-track like Tony Manero with bunions, and “Hallucinations” fits in somewhere between a Simpsons peyote parody and Jeff Wayne’s “Dead London.” Yes indeedy, this is not your average cloud of acoustic motes, not by a long chalk. Remember how many teenagers Godspeed You! Black Emperor sent scurrying into the annals of post-rock once Lift Yr Skinny Fists (2000) took off? The first track on III, the fantastically titled “A Manhã Na Praia,” is like a flashback to “Monheim” itself: all mirage guitar and gloaming menace, jolting sporadically with dark static that peels back in layers of moonlit didgeridoo. You can tell these people all grew up along different points on a fault line, sheltering from tremors and sunburn.

A solar-only record this is not, though, and once the light dies down to blue smears and embers, you get the feeling that there’s more than just crickets going chirp in the dark. On “Trem Fantasma,” we’re treated to a warm up from the jazz band of the undead, biding their time while amniotic vocals invoke snowfall, and “Pink Light” uses a cacophony of honking oboes to summon some pleasant synaesthesia. What personalises the album, however, is the band’s cohesive sense of enjoyment, something they use to furnish their space-rock with that extra added dimension. By the time swansong “Into The Breeze” rolls around, you can see the true intent of their agenda: to write the resolution that Xela’s The Dead Sea (2006) never got, the one where John Twells gets saved from zombie oblivion by the last uncontaminated coastguard.

Whether or not you’re privy to these kind of visuals depends on your tolerance of the music as a genre, I suppose (hence the rating), but as a standalone example of the application of craftsmanship to aural chaos, the Alps manage that rare feat of addressing the element that psych-folk too often lacks: the desire to engage and stimulate without having to first numb your senses. Here is a band who gather the burnt resin vapours around them and blow them back for the dealer to toke on.

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