Artist: Sic Alps
Album: U.S. EZ
Review date: Jul. 24, 2008
The recent media emphasis on “lo-fi” as a re-emerging genre feels more than forced these days. After all, low-fidelity recordings have existed as long as musicians have deigned to make a few bucks off their craft. What differentiated 1980s and ’90s practitioners from any number of skuzzy Nuggets clones or DIY progenitors from decades past was a base ironic detachment that rested on a willful subversion of the expected norms of music production. To claim any sort of rebirth here is to deny the fact that crappy microphones and cheap methods for recording music continue to propagate each and every day.
In a way, though, this renewed focus on an aesthetic like lo-fi was almost an inevitability, a response to be expected from musicians and listeners less and less interested in indie rock’s increasing approach of traditional major label values and marketing strategies coupled with desperate grabs for ever-shrinking pieces of market share pie. Even still, while lo-fi’s break represents somewhat of an alternative from the way things currently are, it still brings with it another set of troubling orthodoxies: ridiculously small pressings of records, a seller’s market on eBay, bands who use cardboard boxes for drums, and a resigned expectation of terrible live sets.
California duo Sic Alps have been lumped pretty haphazardly in with this new class, thanks in part to the tinny quality of some of their recordings and a few overt moves to dialogue with their forbearers (going so far as to cover kindred spirits like the Strapping Fieldhands). In addition, the fact that they’ve had a few vinyl-only releases disappear in a matter of weeks hasn’t done much to sever that association. And though it might have made sense on recordings past, with U.S. EZ, Mike Donovan and Matthew Hartman’s first full-length for the Siltbreeze label, Sic Alps lay bare the fact that their primary interest isn’t in dissociating methods or recorder grot, but rather in pure and simple songs.
More so than any other of their supposed contemporaries, Sic Alp’s tunes place the personalities and the methods a distant second to Donovan and Hartman’s simple guitar and drum patterns, building blocks for songs that call to mind a distinctly multi-generation approach that has as much to do with garage pop and vintage psych as it does modern wave weirdo punk. “Bathman” starts out with a forlorn acoustic strum, for example, but quickly segues into a cascade of rolling drums and a thundering riff. Later on, “Mater” comes on like a punched-up version of the Clean, albeit one cut with stronger percussion and a better sense of vocal harmony. Best of all here, though, is “Gelly Roll Gum Drop,” an ascending vocal paired with insistent drums and honky-tonk moves that manage to take the music of Sic Alps into a wholly new realm.
Now, this group exists in some perfect middle ground, one in which great songs can be had without all the muss and fuss that strips them of their personality. Building on the strength of the still fresh singles collection, U.S. EZ is another great record by a pair of folks who seem to crank them out at ever increasing speeds with an alarming efficiency. You can call this stuff “lo-fi” as much as you’d like, but more than anything else, when the record stops or the show ends, you’ll remember the songs you heard first and foremost and not be left, weeks later, with the nagging feeling that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes by some burnout.
By Michael Crumsho