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The Alps - Le Voyage

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Artist: The Alps

Album: Le Voyage

Label: Type

Review date: May. 27, 2010

In 2008, Dusted’s Matthew Wuethrich wrote of last Alps LP, III: “The overall effect is anachronistic, but never nostalgic,” and that “filmic atmosphere is key to the album.” Much of the same can be said for Le Voyage, which finds the San Francisco psych-folk trio working in the same framework, exploring (what is now) familiar stylistic territory. And while this can be seen as lack of progression, the band has made an even better record here, dialing-back some of the meandering tendencies from III for a more conscientious (yet faithfully cinematic) effort.

Despite each member’s respective side project(s), years of playing together seems to have facilitated their sharing of ideas. Members Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Alexis Georgopoulos and Scott Hewicker are quite adept at laying foundational grooves below playful guitar lines, taking turns navigating melodies. On the opener “Drop In,” layers of acoustic and slide guitar create warm interweaving tapestries that hold a candle to Jimmy Page, while minimalist piano notation seamlessly adjoins. It sets the tone for Le Voyage: slow, meditative acoustic psych-pop instrumentals, with a strong connotation of imagery and landscape.

“Marzipan,” “Petals” and “The Lemon Tree” form a musique concrete triumvirate, sounding out eavesdropped conversations from a French dinner party, found sounds from a rumbling river, and bleeps and bloops reminiscent of a Luc Ferrari tape experiment. These succinct interludes never come off as novel and work well as pacesetters to break up the record’s lighter A-side.

Sonically, everything on the record has a warm smoky haze — no doubt imparted by a selection of analogue gear and erstwhile production techniques. The sun-soaked druggy arrangements translate well with those characterizations, and “St. Laurent” demonstrates this nicely. Here, gauzy atmospherics unravel, always with the bass one leg ahead, slinking along the sinuous path to Zen-like serenity.

Often critics site the Alps’ Gainsbourg (Jean-Claude Vanier) and Euro OST (Morricone) sensibility, but their Kraut-informed use of repetition is undeniable. Songs stretch out slowly and become hypnotic with every passing bar, so much so that the last 20 minutes of the album (comprising all of Side B) almost puts the space/time continuum on pause. That the Alps’ instrumental compositions are so easy to get lost in is no easy feat, and their dreaminess quality is appreciably consistent on successive laps around the pool.

As cloying as it sounds, Le Voyage has a transformative ability where listeners wind up at a different place, (or, if you will, movie scene) from where they began. And when musicians can make records that do this, while referencing their influences so well, it’s quite an accomplishment: The Alps should take a bow.

By Jon Dempsey

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