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"Le Voyage"

The Alps – Le Voyage
28 May 2010, 09:00 Written by Ash Akhtar
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There is something about a hand muting vibrating strings on an acoustic guitar that has left me unable to think of anything other than Extreme’s tawdry ’90s ballad ‘More Than Words’. So it is to my unmistakably mild discontent to hear The Alps’ latest album open with ‘Drop In’ which features that agonisingly percussive palm slap throughout their otherwise dreamy, arpeggiated landscape.

Le Voyage is strung together by mysterious, haunting and possibly unnecessary vignettes of sound that seem to suggest The Alps’ desire to be recognised as a contemporary, experimental band. Frequently interesting though these little stops may be, they have a tendency to disrupt the flow of an otherwise intriguing record that, in essence, is simple to come to terms with but not as adventurous as it could be.

With settings set to psychedelic, Le Voyage presents itself as drug music for people who have never taken drugs, or simply can’t take them any more. That, in itself, is no bad thing, and the trio’s arrangements are occasionally reminiscent of late period Pink Floyd with a production style akin to that found on a remastered Nick Drake LP. Not bad names to be associated with, but the audible lack of danger permeating the record means that a majority of The Alps’ fourth excursion comes over as background music – which it is perhaps intended to be.

The sturdy and consistent use of 12-string acoustic guitars twinned with fuzzed out single string melodies is most successful on ‘St. Laurent,’ which has a wonderful sparsity cleft tidily by the staggered thuds of a picked bass guitar. Again, when the hauntological interludes arrive, they don’t so much tie the seams as split them. ‘Saturno Control’ is where both styles collide: a descending chord progression is mournfully strummed out as a Roland Space Echo is employed for extraneous noise; a judicious use of phasing on an ascending guitar makes the whole sound like a twisted reinterpretation of McCartney’s ‘Junk’.

Beatles influences continue across ‘Black Mountain’, ‘Telepathe’ and ‘Le Voyage’ which all feature tampura drone or sitar melodies catapulted into an explosive climax. Le Voyage is ultimately more of an implication than a direction, and it’s previous album III that more capably demonstrates The Alps’ strengths, combined vision and melodic intentions than their latest.

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