A Is For Alpine
After just one EP and now this debut album, Alpine are already the complete package, writes MATT SHEA.
In the forceful rush of the modern music business, it’s nice to see a band happily take time with their art. When Melbourne six-piece Alpine unleashed their Zürich EP in the final weeks of 2010, it became one of the major talking points of the following summer. Packed with shimmering, spectral pop songs and piloted by the twin seraphic vocals of Lou James and Phoebe Baker, it proved a distinctive work – not an easy feat in a packed Australian indie rock scene.
The subsequent wait for a long player could have been a good thing or a bad thing. Zürich was a fine record, but upon reflection it might be argued it was a touch slight. Had the band run out of gas? Or were they simply taking their time whilst putting miles on the tour van? As it turns out, Alpine were right to relax and take it slowly. Zürich had impressive legs, its strongest cuts keeping the band bouncing about the playlists for most of the last year.
Indeed, so potent were the musical memories of Zürich that the band have included two of them on their debut album, A is for Alpine. Remixing and carrying over work from your EP can be a sign of weakness, but Alpine are confident enough in their momentum to turn it into a winning move. ‘Villages’ and ‘Too Safe’ were the clear standouts on Zürich, so much so that they made the record feel top-heavy. But they fit right into the carefully-woven fabric of A is for Alpine.
And that’s the most immediate thing about A is for Alpine: it’s an album in the true sense of the word, with ebbs and flows and multiple acts. There’s the extended two-pronged intro, a crunching middle-brace crescendo and then the rushing denouement. True to Alpine’s early form, the best new cuts are those that sit in the mid-tempo and allow the six-piece to push and pull at each other, stretching and exploring different sonic directions.
Of the new songs, ‘Gasoline’ is the most potent, keyboardist Tim Royal given the driving seat for a loose-limbed tale of momentary love. But any number of cuts are virtually its equal: ‘Softsides’, which builds a head of steam out of its stop-start contemplation; ‘Hands’, where Christian O’Brien indulges in his preferred guitar crunch; or even the ambience of ‘Lovers 2’, where Baker and James curl themselves around a delicately-plucked riff and reach for notes thus far unexplored. It’s a mark of the album’s quality that your favourite moment seems to change each time you complete another spin.
So what doesn’t work? The answer is very little, although Alpine have handed in such a consistent, unerring collection of music that one can get lost in the final few tracks. The six elements of the band work so well as a complete organism that you start suspecting the different members should be providing a touch more variety in their input. This is particularly the case with Baker and James: it’s enjoyable witnessing the band’s twin calling cards chase each other all over the register, but by the time the final beach-bum strum of ‘Multiplication’ rolls around, you wish there was greater contrast and colour in their enigmatic humming and cooing.
Then again, that’s probably splitting hairs. Alpine are that rarest of young local bands, where you can say with confidence they’re already the complete package. Maxing out the seats on the tour bus seems to be in fashion at the moment, but very little of this six-piece’s work feels loose or extraneous or like an afterthought. A is for Alpine should see them find a wide audience both here and internationally. It certainly deserves to.
‘A Is For Alpine’ is out now through Ivy League.
Listen to ‘A Is For Alpine’: