The first Sic Alps studio endeavor following four scrappier albums and some even scrappier singles is also the first to make good on the promise of the band’s superb live shows, and a defining statement by one of the most exciting bands of the new millennium. In an age of short attention spans, the self-titled Sic Alps is the very definition of a grower – in fact, on first listen, the album might even appear ungenerous. Opening track “Glyphs” is a good example–a groovy garage burner (with strings!) whose idea of a melodic motif is a series of repeated false starts, it proves a most fitting introduction to an album of ghost notes, delayed gratifications, teases and taunts. Throughout the album, this sort of restraint is exercised repeatedly – call it tantric garage. Songs seem to end abruptly, mid-verse, others seem to hang in mid-air. The melodic lines on Sic Alps never quite go where you think they should go, but repeated listens force your brain to fill in those weird sonic holes until those detours that initially seemed so illogical begin to sound conventional. You’ll know you’re a goner when, like me, you begin eagerly anticipating the jarring feedback on “See You On The Slopes,” which sounds like someone left their vibrating cell phone on the dashboard.
The songs are great. Songwriter Mike Donovan has always excelled at bashing out beautifully bleary-eyed acoustic numbers, and Sic Alps’ “Lazee Son” and “Thylacine Man” are two of his finest. “Moviehead” is the kind of frenetic vacuum tube-workout the Black Lips or The Gris Gris would kill to write, while “Rock Races” recalls Galaxie 500 covering Like Flies On Sherbert via Jimmy Webb. Ryan Francesconi’s string arrangements are sublime, and his work on these songs becomes not merely unobtrusive (sometimes, the best you can hope for in these situations) but integral to the overall sound of Sic Alps – think Nelson Riddle with a timeshare in the Village Green.
This is a uniquely damaged record whose only spiritual analog is the Hospitals’ gauzy and great Hairdryer Peace, an album that travels a very different path than Sic Alps but arrives at many of the same alien places. It is also the rare record that still manages to deliver a bonafide contact high. No foolin.’ words/ j jackson toth
MP3: Sic Alps :: Glyphs