Sic Alps, formed in San Francisco in 2004 by guitarist Mike Donovan and drummer Matthew Hartman,
spent four years releasing only lo-fi singles and EPs, later compiled on
A Long Way Around To A Shortcut (Animal Disguise, 2008 - Drag City, 2010)
except for their first single Semi Streets (2004), an acid pow-wow dance
The B-side of that single contains
the distorted ballad Brill Building,
and two pieces of musique concrete
(Social Strats and And What Came Next).
The guitar was detuned garage-style on purpose.
The EP Teenage Alps (2006) indulged in the hailstorm of distortion of
When You Tell It, in the half-baked melody of
Texas, in the new noise maelstrom C'mon Pup and in the
nonsensical collage of Untitled.
The EP The Soft Tour In Rough Form (2006) delivered another litany
wrapped in sound effects (Arthur Machen), a sleepy singalong
(Making Plans), the percussive Speeds and the lysergic lullaby
The single Strawberry Guillotine (2007), a pre-shoegaze lament over
wild guitar distortion, was backed with the grating noise of RATROQ
and the martial ditty The Drake.
The more "musical" EP Description Of The Harbor (2007) contains an obscure
cover of The Strapping Fieldhands' Description of the Harbor and
the cabaret-tish Love Is Strange.
A few songs evoke (notably Who Has Time to Protest?) the tambourine-driven street chants of David Peel.
The "band" excels at mimicking the upbeat sloppy garage-rock of the 1960s, like in A Story Over There and especially Message From the Law, falling halfway between the Velvet Underground and the Animals.
Despite the amateurish approach, they are masters at combining archetypes of classic rock, like the Rolling Stones-ian riff and the Lou Reed-ian inflection of Bells.
An even more creative strand of psychedelic dementia surfaced on
Pleasures And Treasures (Animal Disguise, 2006),
featuring Bianca Sparta of Erase Errata and
containing their first single Semi-Streets.
The spaced-out and noisy chant Battle Of Breton Woods,
the grotesquely deformed jingle Down Comes The Perm,
the cacophonous Syd Barrett-ian blues I Know Where Madness Goes
are appetizers for the gloriously incoherent anthem I Am Grass, worthy
of the classics of the 1960s, and for the final bacchanal of Stories.
The cosmic vignette E.R.Q., reminiscent of
early Pink Floyd,
and Surgeon And The Slave, which is the most linear melody on the album,
reveal a friendlier side.
The noisy fits of the early singles are reenacted in the industrial march of Caro and in the putrid miasma of Morning Waltz.
U.S. EZ (Siltbreeze, 2008) is a much more conventional album compared
with the singles, EPs and the first album. Both the production and the
performance are almost professional. The dirty analog feeling is mostly gone.
Unfortunately, the creative exuberance has been greatly tamed too.
Songs such as Massive Place and Bathman have lost the insane bite that made the duo great.
For the first time one of their recordings contains (slow) songs that are plain
boring (including the longest of them all, Everywhere There).
Sing Song Waitress harks back to the Everly Brothers of the 1950s instead of the punks of the 1960s.
The noisy interludes Put The Puss To Bed and
N##JJ sound simply inept, the way
the Beatles sounded when they tried to be experimental.
Not surprisingly, the melodic Gelly Roll Gum Drop evokes precisely the
age of silly Merseybeat ditties.
Co/Ca (For P.A.)
Bric Jaz (Reprise)
Quai Des Orf‚vres
They seemed poised to join the ranks of lo-fi pop a` la
Guided By Voices (not a compliment).
The single L Mansion (Slumberland, 2009) seems to open a more radio-friendly phase.
After the vertical decline of U.S. EZ, the duo crafted an ambitious
Napa Aslyum (Drag City, 2010), packing 22 songs in just 47 minutes.
The album is still littered with tedious litanies like Jolly
but a bit of Barrett-ian madness is recovered for Eat Happy and
Do You Want To Give $$?,
while the slow-burning blues Ranger and the distorted elegy
Occult Display lay the foundations for the virulent, mean, jagged
garage-rock of The First White Man To Touch California.
The attempt to sound more accessible is still visible, but
at least the melodic songs are indeed catchy
(notably Cement Surfboard).
And there is one piece that is a good match for the creative devastation of
Pleasures And Treasures: Trip Train.
The album could have been trimmed down to a (fabulous) six-song EP. As it is,
it is weighed down by too much fluff.
How Does Vedley Gather? (Drag City, 2012) and
Pangea Globe (Drag City, 2012)
were further demonstrations of Donovan's
deconstructed folk-pop muzak.
Inevitably, what came after that was a rapid conversion to the methods and
sounds of mainstream rock music on Sic Alps (Drag City, 2012),
a collection of mellow, sleepy, polished, retro, harmless background music.
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