Recording information: The Stables, Vic, Australia.
With their debut full-length A Is for Alpine, Australian six-piece indie electro-pop act Alpine create an atmosphere of almost sterilized pop perfection, built on sparklingly clean production, cold dynamics, and sharp harmonies from dual lead vocalists Phoebe Baker and Lou James. With pristine pop production in the same vein as manicured megastars like Phoenix and Bat for Lashes, Alpine's music sounds like it was subjected to a white glove test, with no messy emotional overflows and never a hair out of place sonically. That's not to say it's without verve, but just that the arrangements are so precise the songs feel almost airless at times, with no rough edges to snag the listener in between hooks. Dancey tracks like "Villages" and "Gasoline" stand out, augmenting the interplay of clean guitar and snappy, spare rhythms with Baker and James' moody, sometimes dreamy vocals. Different tracks lean closer and further away from Alpine's electronic impulses. "All for One" coasts on a start-stop electro beat with dramatic choruses not unlike M83, while songs like "Softsides" tap into the more organic Kate Bush-influenced side of the band's songwriting. In the end, Alpine's sound is made unique by the highlighted role of the guitar in song structures where it usually serves a more supportive role. Throughout A Is for Alpine, guitarist Christian O'Brien's interesting and angular lines provide thoughtful counterpoints for the angelic vocals and more straight-ahead electronic and rhythmic choices. At times the songs can tend toward sounding too similar to one another, or stuck at a slightly impersonal distance, but repeat listens gel the album into something that makes sense as a whole. Though these songs seem tailor-made for the dancefloor, somehow they're best enjoyed in the late hours of the night or in a solitary, reflective headspace. ~ Fred Thomas
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