Reporting Courtney E. Smith
When you think Australia, here are a list of things that likely don’t come to mind: ethereal music, glitter, synchronized dancing, and Kate Bush. But that is exactly what the members of the band Alpine are bringing to the table.
The group’s album A Is For Alpine is similar in sound to the music of Canadian bands like Stars and Broken Social Scene. In their native country, The Age said Alpine had created one of the best albums of 2012. They were nominated for two ARIAs (Australia’s GRAMMYs), while iTunes Australia dubbed A Is For Alpine the Alternative Album of the Year.
And this is only their debut record.
A six-piece group, Alpine is driven by a songwriting style that deftly blends their playful, dyadic vocals into their melodies and rhythms (“one of us can hold the melody, and the other can do some kind of…decorating,” says Alpine vocalist Phoebe Baker). The music is intense but at the same time stays light. Hand claps and other small sounds that usually get buried in the mix are distinct here; and the bandmembers aren’t afraid to push the levels on the whole thing up or down to enhance the mood.
The single “Gasoline” makes a great summer jam. In an interview with Radio.com, Alpine singers Baker and Lou James talked about writing it.
“It was written about having a crush on somebody, somebody who had a girlfriend, and it was kind of a fun, exciting crush. An unattainable crush that was really intense,” James said, smiling at the memory. “It was a crush attack.”
“But now it’s translated…and I don’t have a crush on this man anymore. And he doesn’t know it was written about him,” she continued.
Watching them perform “Gasoline” live–as they did at New York’s Webster Hall on June 20–was like watching the band walking on pins and needles, as they worked to get the delicate mix of music right. It felt like it was a cathartic exercise for the singers, who themselves evoked the feelings of sex and lust that are at the core of the song. The two women jumped from singing to playing keyboards (James) to dancing, shifting roles as the moment (and the crowd) inspired them.
Most of the band’s lyrics tackle love, from hurt to elation, tapping into a universal feeling. It’s a territory covered by one of their idols, Kate Bush. The Alpine bandmembers do invoke the legendary English artist sonically, though they perhaps pay tribute to her even moreso by their style of dress and their keen interest in synchronized dances. You can see examples of this in their music videos — namely “Hands,” an odd, mind-twisting video that sort of references The Virgin Suicides (the film moreso than the book).
The unique video has racked up over 1.1 million views on YouTube.
“At first when I read the treatment [for "Hands"], I was like, ‘Woah, I don’t think we should do this,’” Baker recalled. “I actually thought it was funny. And then we sat down and talked about it. And it just so much, so we just ended up going with it. And it has just been such an amazing talking point.”
The Alpine bandmates have been spending quite a bit of 2013 on tour in the U.S. They played an astounding ten shows in one day at Austin’s South By Southwest Music Festival back in March, and they’ve been on a small tour around the country for the rest of the spring.
For them, being on stage is a huge part of what it’s about.
“When we do a show we want it to be a performance,” James said. “We don’t want to just be standing around there, we want it to be something that’s entertaining visually. And fun. And uplifting…or downlifting, if that’s what we want. But also for it to be ourselves.”