This Drag City-produced, label debut, self-titled effort by Sic Alps is interesting on its face in that it doesn’t really sound like a first album with the label at all. It sounds much more like the middle period of a band that has already sown its wild oats and is ready to settle into a more mature sound. It’s not polished, however, and wouldn’t be proudly flying the garage rock flag if it was, but this is not the music of snot-nosed ingrates trying to cop their first feel.
There seems to be little immediacy in the recordings. Instead, our musicians let their output arise coolly from an enveloping haze of indifference. Much of the album seems to tread the halfway point between Brian Jonestown Massacre and Guided By Voices, without truly reaching the peaks of either. The crunch and groove of some of the guitars say 60’s sensibilities, but much of the performances here say 90’s aloofness.
“Glyphs” is a promising opener, as it lumbers around with an almost Beatles-like buzz, succeeded by the chipper stomp of “God Bless Her, I Miss Her.” And as with any debut album worth its salt, Sic Alps sets about showcasing a certain comfortable sound throughout, usually a two-stepping acoustic guitar that leads around a skip along-percussion section, as well as a simple, thumping bass. Nothing here is necessarily bad, but nothing here really escapes into consideration, even after a second and third listen.
For some bands, sounding uninspired comes off an admirable musical aesthetic, but here, there are some good ideas that just don’t seem fully fleshed out, or at least imbued with anything that makes them especially memorable. For instance, “Wake Up, It’s Over II” is largely harmless with it’s “Hey Joe” chord progression, but the groove doesn’t build up to anything substantial. Other times, efforts entirely misfire. The moody acoustic “Thylacine Man” builds an eerie enough tone, only to be disrupted by needlessly dramatic guitar lines that stop the mood dead in its tracks. Its inclusion feels merely for the sake of adding “depth,” artificial as it sounds.
Not to spread out more in a negative strain, but another point of note are some uninspired vocals—sometimes slurring and sometimes needlessly breathless—too often cutting the legs out from under the proceedings. There are some very decent and insightful lines peppered throughout the lyric sheet, but they are invariably delivered with a seemingly disingenuous force that undermines it all.
The most frustrating aspect of Sic Alps is its unmet potential. When ideas that work are not emphasized to their full breath, and ideas with little going for them are depended on to carry songs lacking the passion to make them work, the recipe is just too slapdashed to make a desirable impact. Or any impact at all.