Alpine: A Is For Alpine (Ivy League)
Land Observations: Roman Roads IV-XI (mute)
Cave Painting: Votive Life (Third Rock)
The record label excitedly informs me that Alpine are “six friends from Melbourne”, which elicits the response ‘well, surely all bands are formed by friends’. At least the ones not created by a television talent quest.
So, friends they are, and that is nice, I hope they don’t end up the way many school buddies do, at each other’s throats after several years in cabin fever mode. The press release also describes Alpine as making “bold, twinkling, sophisticated pop music”, a method that has led to The Guardian newspaper opining that Alpine are “Hands down the best Aussie band we’ve heard all year.”
That’s a statement that has to be quantified by asking what the opposition is, after all Australian music has few genuine success stories and lag behind considerably their Tasman neighbours. The Flying Nun label wasn’t formed in Melbourne or Sydney but in Dunedin, The Phoenix Foundation from Wellington, ad nauseum.
The description by the record label is spot on, Alpine do make sophisticated pop music, but I would argue against the term bold. A is For Alpine is ideal for a cocktail party but it would be a challenge to play this on permanent rotation. Phoebe Baker sounds eerily enchanting but it is a monotone voice fitting with the minimalist flow. A little bit of adventure would not have gone amiss.
A travel adventure is what Land Observations have on Roman Roads IV-XI. Composer James Brooks goes on an exploration of the road network that existed across Europe and into Africa and Asia during the Roman Empire. Each composition is “an attempt to respond to the history and geography of an individual road”: hence titles such as Via Flaminia and Aurelian Way. It’s entirely instrumental, and it feels like a travelogue. There are plenty of plinks, and a hefty number of plongs. and while it is minimalist to the max, there is a richness to this earthy work that gives it purety if not any commercial success whatsoever.
I listened to these three albums in order, so Cave Painting raise the temperature considerably by introducing guitars, but don’t get too excited just yet. These artists come from Brighton on the southern English coast, the breeding ground for a substantial number of indie bands over the years, few of them having left much of a mark. They develop the “expansive” melodica that has been nurtured over the years by Coldplay before the corporate cock proved too tempting, and most recently S.C.U.M. whose debut last year was much loved by Porky.
It has taken several listens to come to terms with this album, and it’s partially succeeded. At first it sounded one-dimensional: Adam Kane’s voice, as beautiful as it is, lacked passion, the lyrics had touches of a sixth-form poetry contest and the songs seem to have been created with an intention, a vision of a colossal sound rather than having come from the heart. A few listens confirms some of those criticisms but some are clearly ill-thought. There IS passion, a passion for the music they make, and several songs are majestic soundscapes, notably the monumental Gator, but it remains, after half a dozen spins, a difficult listen, with ideas regurgitated and the feeling that they tried just a bit too hard.