In case we haven’t made it patently obvious by the number of times we really love Alpine. The Melbourne sextet formerly known as Swiss have sung their way into our hearts from their first single ‘Hands’ through to the bouncy, falsetto-driven ‘‘ and now their excellent full-length LP, A Is For Alpine. Dave and I are going to see them on Thursday night and seriously, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a local show since I saw The Presets in shiny bike shorts back in 2005. An album that keeps on giving, with updated cuts from their well-worn debut EP, Zurich and some great new ones, A Is for Alpine has been on permanent rotation for long enough now (we were lucky enough to get it a fortnight early) to merit a second visit. That’s primarily because many of these songs have taken shape over a number of years, despite inhabiting the same release. Today I’m going to look at one of the newer jams that seem to mark the break between where Alpine have come from and where they may go next. It sits smack bang in the middle of the album and it’s called ‘Softsides’.
There are two immediate forces at work on any Alpine track, and you hear both of them within the first five seconds of pressing play here. The crisp, vibrant upper-fret guitar of christian O’Brien, which is used to explosive effect on ‘Gasoline’, always manages to sound like it’s been copied and pasted onto fifteen separate tracks in the final mix. It is seriously that big; cutting through everything, including the other definitive element of Alpine’s sound that is the twin soprano attack of frontwomen Phoebe and Lou. Whether they’re in direct harmony, unison or beguiling dissonance as we hear in the verse of ‘Softsides’, they’re an undeniable focal point wrestling against a number of other ones. We should go back to that voicing. It’s actually only one of the girls on track, but whatever that note is (maybe a flattened seventh, I forgot how to do this after highschool) it creates a weird sense of unease in the second stanza of every verse, seeming to intentionally jar with O’Brien’s arpeggiated riff. There’s a nifty time change at the turnaround, too. I find this interesting mostly because this is a band who do so well in making things sound sunny and full of sugar and they’re kind of internally sabotaging themselves here, albeit in a very pretty way. It shows that they have brains not only for pop writing, but also the nuance that can quietly slot in underneath.
With so much high-octane, high-octave focus, the real thrill for an Alpine listener comes when they bring in the bottom half of the band. It’s in the chorus of ‘Softsides’, which grows in intensity at every repeat, that you see them doing serious damage. It’s not that the progressions are particularly complex; indeed the think-y stuff is reserved for the verse, but it’s because they’re all going for it, and by God there’s SIX OF THEM, that it gets you excited. O’Brien drops himself down into a middle range, adds another chiming layer of keys on top and soars into passive-aggressive-grunge mode. The click-clack of the drums increases in rapidity, and though it’s only slight in the first time around, it’s the extended wallop of the one that comes after that does the trick. As the girls slide into the lusty minor ‘I know that this is for-e-verrrr’, the pulse beats itself into shape and all the other instruments come out of the woodwork and show how exquisitely dark Alpine can be when they want to. Of course, with those voices riding shotgun, it’s never truly going to go goth, but it’s an insidious grower that I didn’t expect from them at all, which is precisely why it’s so welcome.
Listen to it twice.
Alpine – ‘Softsides’