Alpenglow get cosmic in unorthodox settings
Back before the band Alpenglow moved from Vermont to Brooklyn, they rehearsed and recorded in an old chapel for a while. Then they went on a small tour, following the release of their record, aptly called “Chapel,” and managed to play a series of shows in churches and chapels. Singer Graeme Daubert is originally from Winston-Salem, and through high school he sang in the choir at St. Augsburg Lutheran church. But it’s not like Alpenglow make sacred music.
They’re an indie rock band. Strictly secular. Of this earth. But they were into the acoustics of the big church space, the way the sound bounced off the ceiling, the natural reverb. Other bands have been known to record in empty grain silos or in tiled bathrooms to approximate that same feeling of having the sound multiply and spread out as it comes back to you. It’s an effect that can trigger thoughts of a spiritual nature, though, whether you’re religious or not: Thoughts about where we sit in the scheme of the universe and how that relates to the vastness of things, how you can put something out and get more back.
It might be a stretch, to extend the metaphor of the band’s name to their sound as well. But maybe not. The term “alpenglow” is the name of an effect of light that happens when the sun is behind snowy mountains, either before sunrise or right after sunset, and the light on peaks in the opposite direction take on a haunting reddish glow. (Alpenglow is also, coincidentally, the name of a Colorado company that makes cannabis-based botanical products.) Some might detect a ghostly glow to Alpenglow’s music.
The human voice can be made to do all kinds of things. It’s like paint: you can smear it, spread it thin, blend it at the edges, allow the texture underneath to come through, or just let it be the way it comes out. Some singers make their voices sound worn, or they force extra notes into every syllable. On one level, Daubert and Alpenglow work for a kind of naturalness. It might sound like the opposite of style but it’s as much of an aesthetic choice as singing with a growl or bluesy slurs.
“My main goal whenever I sing is that I’m really not trying to add anything to my voice that doesn’t feel true to me,” says Daubert. “I think I can somehow hear it when singers maybe put on a roughness to their voice that I don’t think maybe came out of their experience.”
There’s plenty of emotional range to be explored within the Alpenglow style. Tracks on “Callisto,” the band’s February 2016 release, bring to mind fellow choirboy-ish (sometime) Brooklynites Grizzle Bear, with their clear-tone singing and chamber-music leanings.
In what might seem odd to first-time listeners, the band has said their move from snowy New England to New York, about two years ago, occasioned a toughening-up of their sound, since, in the city, they rehearsed in a practice studio surrounded by high-volume metal bands, forcing Alpenglow to turn up and play with a bit more force just to be able to hear themselves.
It’s not like they’ve become a stoner rock outfit, but there are moments on “Callisto,” particularly on “Flicker Flutter,” where the slow tempos and the vocal harmonies get coupled with gut-rattling synth frequencies or dramatic dropouts from the rest of the band, creating a dynamic tension. The pairing of acoustic guitars, drum machine programming and the pulsing oscillations of a synthesizer make for a woozy combination as well.
“I watch the flicker flutter screen,” sings Daubert. “I swipe through images of friends. I take the drugs they make for me.”
Fans of Neon Indian and My Morning Jacket will find plenty ecstatic trippiness to like about this. The big twinkling chorus drops the floor out from under you, and the song goes into zero gravity on the bridge with what sounds like a mellotron paired with a bass clarinet before a stratospheric little bit of guitar soloing.
Weightlessness might be part of the thematic equation on the album-closer “Skydiving,” which, with fragments of its melodic shape and instrumentation, evokes the cosmic flow of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”
Sort of like their tour of churches and chapels a while back, this time around Alpenglow continues to try and reimagine the live-show setting, striving to play non-traditional venues. You might notice that the band’s Greensboro show is taking place at Mack And Mack, a women’s clothing store. Not your standard rock club. Adding to the unconventionality of the event, the other “band” on the bill is the percussion trio Tigue (also from
Brooklyn), who would be as at home on an evening of music by Steve Reich and Edgar Varese. Tigue’s layered, odd-time compositions can be dizzying in their shifting accents, slow-mo phasing and evolving polyrhythmic complexity. It’s not background music, that’s for sure.
“They’re not just a band that you can tune out,” says Daubert of Tigue. “Any time that you hear them, you have to try to figure out what they’re doing.”
The pairing fits in to Alpenglow’s overall goal of making a live-music event unpredictable.
“Our thing has been to try to change elements of a live show, so that it doesn’t just feel like you’re going to another rock venue,” says Daubert, “to try to shift elements, so that people really do turn their heads.” !
JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
Alpenglow play with Tigue at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 13 at Mack and Mack, 220 South Elm St., Greensboro. For more information visit alpenglowmusic.com