There’s a method to Sic Alps now, where the haphazard, west-coast garage sound seems anything but accidental. The four guys aren’t dissembling as lo-fi psych rockers — but thanks to a steady and prolific output of records of all types of inches and lengths, at this point in their career they sound like they’re playing at the DIY aesthetic as opposed to being fully immersed in it. They wear a wry grin like the ones Pavement made so famous.
On their self-titled fifth LP, there’s more of a plot than any of their old releases. Last year’s Napa Asylum felt like a string of incredible luck after clicking shuffle, while Sic Alps is carefully sequenced, with spikes of 70’s-guitar uppers always cushioned by moseying sedatives. The sloppiness comes with purpose, the production choices are specific, and off-kilter and off-key performances err closer to engaging erraticism than formless madness.
Sic Alps know that it’s the little things. There’s always a hum of imperfect flotsam behind shiny pop gems like “God Bless Her, I Miss Her”, which sounds like someone tried to hand-animate a Beatles song circa Rubber Soul. But there’s something so specific about every sound on that track, from the roundness of the drums, to the surfy guitar solo, to the wordless melody of the bridge. Maybe it’s the string arrangements by Joanna Newsom’s arranger Ryan Francesconi on opener “Glyphs” that bring that feeling to light, as if all the guitar scribbles and fracks in the background of the album are scored and arranged, too.
More than the organized chaos, what makes Sic Alps shine is the contrast between the dissonant fuzz-noise tracks like “Drink Up”, the kick-about psych jangles like “Moviehead”, and a pair of stunning minimalist ballads. Singer Mike Donovan, naked in a large room perhaps, sings the boney lament of “Thylacine Man” and ekes out the words over an acoustic guitar, “You don’t need my body/ she told the ground.” It’s an arresting turn for the album, something barer and more yearning than Nirvana’s endcap, “Something In The Way”.
Though the endcap of Sic Alps traffics in a similar style, an ambient Eno piano melody plunked on an old piano over some white noise on “See You On The Slopes”. The song just soars away into the ether, and the rest of the album weighs the perfect amount to drift away with it. It’s the last in a series of surprises that Sic Alps offer on the album: All of a sudden after bouncing around the garage, knocking shit off the walls, you’re floating several feet above the shag carpet lining the cement.
Essential Tracks: “Thylacine Man”, “God Bless Her, I Miss Her”, and “See You On The Slopes”