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The Alps - III

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Artist: The Alps

Album: III

Label: Type

Review date: Oct. 22, 2008

The Alps’ previous two releases, Spirit Shambles and Jewelt Galaxies, were pulsing, ramshackle affairs guided by an urge for group-mind merge through improvisation and rudimentary recoding set-ups. III is the trio’s first studio work, and is another thing altogether. The group has tightened up its meandering, either teasing out and arranging its elements into tight, rhythmic grids and song-like arcs, or whittling down its more abstract tendencies to their essentials. Over its eight tracks, the album never fails to find a musical pleasure center of one sort or another.

The overall effect is anachronistic, but never nostalgic. The short, crisp melodies and through-the-looking glass funk hark back to soundtracks for ’70s Italian films. The limber, larger-than-life bass lines (see "Hallucinations") suggest the best sort of jazz-influenced rock. The bold chordal movement and honed piano theme of "Cloud One" put the tune in anthem territory. The all-too brief "Pink Light" works like a tribute to the early hall of mirrors minimalism worked up by Terry Riley in pieces like "Dorian Reeds" or music for "Poppy Nogood and The Phantom Band."

Tracking these different strains isn’t difficult when you consider the line-up. In their solo projects the trio pursues similar ideas: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma delves into dense, overtone-laden drifts of feedback; Alexis Georgopoulos, working as Arp, gets into solo synth exposition a la J.D. Emmanuel; as part of Troll, Scott Hewicker smashed up genres into dynamic, energetic song structures.

But the effect is far from being a collection of the influences listed above, or the simple sum of its participants. The allusions only make it richer, and the individuals involved give the group an expansive sound. On tracks like "Hallucinations" they all come together beautifully. The rhythm section creates a heavy gravity, grounding the ethereal choral shimmer and soaring feedback strafes from guitar. "Trem Fantasma" works this tension even further, letting the bass do all the heavy lifting, and opening all sorts of space for guitar melodies, synth noise and vocal embellishments to wander around in. The pieces, though not sprawling and rough-hewn, still feel extended and open-ended.

This filmic atmosphere is key to the album, turning it into an audio analogue of cinematic rapture, that immersive dream-state that hits in the opening moments after the lights in the theater go down and the opening credits run, the same state that, hopefully, is sustained for the duration. III comes close, with only the watered-down groove of "Into the Breeze" bringing something of an anti-climax, more rehash than reprise.

But arguing about details here misses the point, as III is more about broad strokes, the communal experience trumping the micro-event. We could use a few more records like this one, unafraid of the grand gesture, but not overly wedded to complexity, something that feels like it’s building rather than tearing down and more into unity than pushing any individual voice to the forefront.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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