The Alps – Le Voyage

The Alps - Le Voyage

What’s the difference between a trip and a voyage? Calling an album a trip is a cliché everyone falls back on from time to time. The phrase certainly captures the idea of experiencing a transportive feeling, but unfortunately also carries with it dude-talk hallucinogenic connotations which suggest being out of control or dispossessed from will. With the title of their new album, Le Voyage, instrumental rock trio The Alps has done us the favor of refining this druggy rockist metaphor. The word voyage, utilized often by classic poets characterizing the traversal of intellectual and emotional territory, is more closely associated with an intentional and meaningful passage than with a wild ride and pure sensory stimulation. The music that makes up Le Voyage, while indebted to space rock, Eastern drone, and Dead-like jamming, fulfills its titular intent with compositions that are constantly pushing into the new territory under the band’s own steerage, never relying on accidents, loudness, or pure inertia to lead the way.

“Drop In” leads off the album with the most brightly sunkissed sound this trio has ever managed – with a simple and confident chord progression finger-picked on acoustic guitar, trailed by an accompanying piano, and colored by a wispy pedal steel – signaling that the Baudelairean ennui and boredom of repeated forms is of no concern, replaced with an embrace of the untamable unknown. Not only does the band free itself of mechanistic genre considerations – it also does away with their tradition instruments. The first half of the album is peppered with truly strange, ultra vivid musique concrète pieces, which on their own are not revelatory, but which act to refocus the listener’s attention and makes them question their perceptions as the album unfolds. “Marzipan” is filled with chamber violin, freaky echoed voices, explosive thunderclaps, and an absolutely intriguing sound which simultaneously recalls falling rain, a babbling brook, and a sizzling frying pan. When the driving drums and bassline of next track “Crossing the Sands” hit, it intrudes at a primal level, taking hold deeply and pulling you along at its will.

The coup here is making a record that feels consistent without sounding same-y, combining pastoral folk and astral rock in a way which makes all the songs sound strangely familiar, but still unique to these particular players. The newest touch for the band is in the bass characters, which assert more melodic character and follow their own momentum more than simply adding support. Like most good bass work, the lines buoy the rest of the music by marking time segments and delineating a channel, but like any buoy, they have enough elasticity to bounce and turn in their own little dance as they react to the more temperamental forces. The guitars are still exquisite and agile as they map rich, colorful terrain with the cool hand and elegant saturation of the best European soundtrack composers. The pianos fall in with understated grace, and also provide one of the unique touchstones for the band’s music. The whole affair comes off unpredictable but succinctly distilled and distinct. This is The Alps, no less and no more. Thankfully, that range covers a lot of ground.

If they’re drawing inspiration from Baudelaire’s famous poem of the same name, and they might be, it’s in their modernist approach to the past and their embrace of the unknown. The poem “Le Voyage” is concerned with looking for meaning in modernity but ending up with the empty conclusion that any objective and absolute truth is illusory. Grandly, this sobering discovery opens the door to the wise thrill of the mysterious, trading in the alienating for the alien.  Of course, the Alps are an instrumental trio, so their embodiment of this motif is never textually explicit, but their adventurous piloting fits with the spirit of “plunging into the abyss’ depths, Heaven of Hell, no matter which”, and is delivered with a clarity and radiance which denies overanalysis and beats back the uber-aware neuroticism of modern life. On Le Voyage, these negations simultaneously enable a positive freedom which is exhilaratingly wide-open and enchanting, building an exalted future out of the lessons of the past in a way that would make the famous poet tingle with pleasure.

The Alps

Type Records