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Sic Alps - Sic Alps

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Artist: Sic Alps

Album: Sic Alps

Label: Drag City

Review date: Sep. 17, 2012

Sic Alps have always seemed like an especially and uniquely Californian band to me. To my frayed east-coast nerves, Mike Donovan has sounded impossibly calm for the band’s entire body of work, but their delicately distorted palette and deconstructed, shambolic rhythms betray a single-mindedness that I usually associate with New England. That seemingly oxymoronic relaxed focus has always been something for a psychedelic-minded musician to aspire to, and it rarely sounds more attainable than on Sic Alps.

Donovan’s arrangements have come a long way since Sic Alps’ days as a two-piece, when everything was washed in fuzz and reverb, nearly to the point of inaudibility. The strings, keys and layered guitar sounds on Sic Alps show that the band — including dummer Douglas Armour, bassist Tim Hellman and former Comets on Fire electrician Noel von Harmonson — is interested in more than treading water, and by invoking the mid-career self-titled record, it’s clear Donovan thinks the band is onto something. This progression, and the sonic and stylistic clarity that comes with it, has ambitiously refined Sic Alps’ take on a California-by-way-of-Canterbury sound. “Rock Races” is cinematic and moody walking-home music, and “Moviehead” kind of sounds like The Monkees, but they’re both great; they work together in part because of Donovan’s guilelessness, and in part because Sic Alps as a project has had the patience to craft an identity where both styles sound equally plausible. (It seems appropriate to mention here that the Sic Alps singles compilation is called A Long Way Around To a Shortcut.)

Considering Ty Segall is an on-and-off member of the band, I’m not about to call anyone out for mentioning Sic Alps in the same breath as west-coast contemporaries with whom their music has basically nothing in common. Sic Alps’ thoughtfulness distinguishes them, though, and it’s begun to pay dividends by allowing Donovan to experiment with barely-there piano tracks like finale “See You On the Slopes” without seeming like a dilettante. John Dwyer’s ambition and attention to detail are similar, but his Oh Sees have tended to operate in Northern California’s hill-bombing freakout mode, whereas Donovan and Sic Alps have always seemed more content in the Golden State’s fields of lysergic relaxation.

Sic Alps sidesteps nostalgia, and comes off as less concerned with genre and more concerned with why those sounds came about to begin with. While a lot of their peers have attempted (unsuccessfully, mostly) to beat down the doors of California’s psychedelic myth, Sic Alps have taken their time and found their own way there; in doing so they’ve created one of the best records of the year.

By Joe Bernardi

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A Long Way Around to a Shortcut


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