Thursday, January 27, 2011

Le voyage - The Alps (#4, 2010)

The Alps have mellowed out somewhat on their latest LP. Their previous III (#9, 2008) had a dreamy, sleepy vibe - but more like a noisy, hallucinatory quiet-storm. Le voyage seems a half-step more traditionally quiet, with acoustic guitars, pianos, and naturalistic field recordings. Still in the imaginary soundtrack ballpark, but even more aligned with Floyd's late-'60s filmwork.

The way I see it is... If time ran backwards, then 40 years from now, the perfect band to provide music for Zabriskie Point would be located, and they would be heavily influenced by The Alps. Instead we've got this universe, and they had to make do with Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead (and Jerry Garcia), John Fahey, and Kaleidoscope. Which was definitely alright too...

"Drop In" from Le voyage (2010)

Side A beings with the sparkling, drifting guitar figure of "Drop In," which follows a path so natural it might as well be through a forest. A rustling, flute-like lead hovers, and a few raindrops of piano fall lightly. A stronger lead with pedal steel accompaniment wanders in and out. A tune as inevitable and unforced as a river.

"Crossing the Sands" from Le voyage (2010)

The next "song" is the only one that might be called rocking - the insistent tribal beat of "Crossing The Sands" only shows up here. The freak-out wah-wah breaks and crashes back in, rock 'n' roll style, while the acoustic rhythm just builds forward momentum.

The first half of "St. Laurent" plays like a more full-bodied cousin of "Drop In" - with a strong bassline, drums, more dramatic dynamics, and a violin? It's got that same natural beauty, though. The tasteful beat, the descending guitar line, the lead that actually follows closely to the tune's structure... And then the quiet echo played over on piano for the back half. St. Laurent is, among other things, a type of grape.

"Saturno Contro" from Le voyage (2010)

You like Pink Floyd's mid-early period (c. 1969)? I sure do!

Three brief noise interludes break up Side A, between each of the regular tunes. "The Lemon Tree" is the longest, 2 minutes of various synth squiggles over a shifting backdrop. "Petals" is the best but shortest, moving quickly from sturdy drones to a plucky keyboard. "Marzipan" is the weirdest with Francophone female ecstasy, running water, alien chamber-music, and explosions.

Not sure I fully support the approach - not everything needs to be weird. But I guess that's just part of who The Alps are... And these pieces do break up (though don't mask) a fairly similar (though very good) sounding first side.

Le Voyage reverse
Side B is different. "Black Mountain" sets a melancholy piano against an Indian sympathetic resonance drone machine (the tambura), and amid outdoorsy field recordings.

This leads directly into the longer-ish title track, neither an epic nor the centerpiece. Not so much an epic due to both length (under 10 mins) and formlessness ("Le voyage" translates roughly to "the voyage"). But since it is longer, I'm going to say that it's a lot like a prog tune, minus the bombast, with different movements, that with enough ingenuity you could probably equate to an actual or imaginary journey, from history or literature. It is the centerpiece of Side B, though.

"Telepathe" from Le voyage (2010)

Finally, the tambura returns to close things out on "Telepathe" - this time with added bomast. Like drum rolls and fills all over the place! I originally found it odd to call back this "foreign" sound so soon, but it makes sense with what seems to be the structure(s) of the tracklist, alternating back and forth with each song, restlessly moving on and tacking back. Something something about some kind of voyage, right?

Recorded, mixed, and bass by Philip "Tic-Tac" Manley of Jonas Reinhardt (and others), who has a new solo album on Thrill Jockey: Life Coach. Also, check out this 2009 live performance by Portraits - here: one Alp, all of Barn Owl (#11, 2010), the tambura player and field recordist on Le voyage, plus others.

Summer Trips
The Alps also put together their ranked free online mix "Summer Trips" Typecast. You can stream or download (arrow button) with this thing:

Whilst looking up that one, I just noticed for the first time Jefre Cantu-Ledesma's solo Typecast: "Wolf Moon Mix", which looks pretty cool also.

Le voyage

Genre - Easy Noise
Official/Myspace -
Location - San Francisco, CA

Review - Pop Matters
SoundCloud (stream) - Le voyage
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Forced Exposure (US), Amazon (US), Boomkat (UK)

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