Until now, I haven't spent much time with Bay Area band Sic Alps, though I've written about a lot of the acts with whom they're friendly (and with whom they've shared bills and personnel), like Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Tim Presley's White Fence, and Ben Chasny's Six Organs of Admittance (who play the Crocodile tomorrow with Genius Award nominees Master Musicians of Bukkake).
It's reductive to say you'll like the Alps if you like those artists—but it's also true, so I knew I'd enjoy their first studio recording before I heard it, even if I'm less familiar with band leader Mike Donovan than his friends. And I do. Enjoy it, that is.
In its mix of folk, psychedelia, and late-period Beatlesque pop—traditional rock instruments plus violin, flute, piano, and tambourine—their fifth full-length offers a blissful experience (Joanna Newsom associate Ryan Francesconi provided the string arrangements). And by blissful, I mean the music, rather than the mood, which is more introspective and melancholy (part-time cab driver Donovan recalls a young Lou Reed on "Thylacine Man," but not so much on the other tracks).
The record also reminds me of the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow (especially "Glyphs") and the Velvet Underground's Third,* which just might be my favorite VU release, since I prefer the group when they aren't rushing so hard on their run, although a Morrison-like spray of feedback decorates the elegiac "Wake Up, It's Over II."
Best of all, they don't neglect the bass, like some acid-folk acts, which lends each track, no matter how hazy—and "Rock Races" is very hazy indeed—an earthy undercurrent. Instead of melting away like soap bubbles, songs remain tethered to the ground, like unruly weeds; bobbing, swaying, and dancing in the breeze.
* According to this interview, Donovan almost titled the LP Velvet Underground's Third Record.
Sic Alps is out now. The band plays the Neptune on Oct 7 with Thee Oh Sees.