Review: Alaska – Alaska E.P. (2009)
Music discovery is a funny thing. I’ve mentioned before how often I get new favorite bands gift wrapped and handed over to me like birthday gifts from good pals. Groups opening for an already beloved act? That’s a great way to give yourself some exposure to the little known and/or brand new, too. But we, kids, live in the age of technology, and just as it has altered how we interact socially with one another, it has revolutionized music discovery. From Largehearted Boy to Daytrotter to Radio Free Chicago (Hey, I gotta represent, don’t I?), finding out about new bands is just as easy as it is overwhelming. Seriously. Sometimes it’s just daunting to put forth the time and effort into blog surfing because: Where do you start? What do you download? What do you deem worthy of your time? With so many unknown acts out there that you know you’d just love if you got exposed to them properly, it’s hard to know exactly what links to click and what sites to surf.
Personally, I still go the old fashioned route of “word of mouth” but I admittedly do like to surround myself with people who know just as much if not more about music than I do. When music is your career, taking up every aspect of your life, it kind of sucks when you find yourself out on a date with a 3OH3! fan and no matter how many times my step mom tells me “Amber, there is more to life than just music”, I can’t help but feel as if she’s horribly wrong.
However, I digress. I don’t think this site it about the trials and tribulations of Amber Valentine’s dating life (Although it could be!). Rather, I think this site and this blog in particular might have something to do with music; possibly even my original point of “discovering” said music. See, it was only a few nights ago that I stumbled upon this band, Alaska. I couldn’t sleep, had nothing to review, and, well, was going a little out of my mind with nothing creative to do. I’d queued up a dozen of articles and reviews only a few weeks ago but due to the fact that I’m something of a “workaholic” who finds trivial things such as “sleep” overrated, I ‘d finished my entire “to do” list within days. So I went out hunting for new music. (And by “went out hunting” I mean “sat around in my underwear like the classy lady that I am”). That’s how I stumbled upon Alaska. They’d put their E.P. on their band camp for free and one of the band member’s pals has been posting it around on message boards, trying to drum up some grass roots exposure (Who needs publicists when you have pals?). Well, good job “band member’s pal”, it worked. To be honest, I just enjoyed the bear and the font and the band name. It gave me the idea that, were I to look up Alaska on last.fm, they would be “Recommended if you like… Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, M. Ward.” I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the fact that I associate bears with beards and beards, in turn, with folk music.
To say I knew nothing of Alaska when I started my venture is an understatement and google, well, that wasn’t much help because it ends up when there’s a state that shares the name of your band, results are usually going to be about the state itself. But, I figured, it had been a long damn while since I listened to a band before I’d read a press release or seen what the band looks like so I figured, why not? It’s time for a change. Expecting some rootsy folk, I delved into Alaska. And now you can too.
It’s strange to me that, at less than a half hour long and only seven songs, Alaska feels more cohesive than most full lengths I’ve heard in recent months. There’s nothing conceptual or tricky here, only honest, rootsy folk music. While that’s just what I thought Alaska would deliver (Good job on the bear graphic, guys! It gives the right impression!), I didn’t realize how deftly such would be done. From the opening of “Introduction”, you’re clued in that Alaska might be something to watch out for. I’m a total “lyrics person” in a sense that words and meaning make or break a song for me. Cheap rhyme schemes (I’m looking at you Best Coast!) turn my stomach and can put me off a catchy song, no matter how infectious the melody. That being said, “Introduction” is sweet, d.i.y., lo-fi with intricately picked guitar that sounds almost as crisp as the xylophone that accompanies it. In a lot of ways, that tells you everything you need to know about Alaska: Juxtaposition. “Still” revolves around Christian Brenndorfer-Zucchiatti’s rough-around-the-edges vocals and the wonderful surprise of a cello and, as the chorus makes it’s third appearance, lilting female vocals.
If “Still” kindly requests your attention, “Fool’s Gold” is the track that doesn’t just command it but damn near steals it away from every other distraction in your life. Recalling the ragged, bitter stomp of M. Ward’s “Four Hours In Washington”, complete with worn vocals and biting lyrics, “Fool’s Gold” ups the ante and makes you wonder that if this little buried treasure from New Zealand can do such wondrous things with just a bandcamp and a facebook behind them, just think what could happen with a full length and a budget. As Alaska progresses from song to song, the band sounds more and more grandiose and cohesive. Can you imagine Arcade Fire as a folk band? They might sound a little something like this. Think M. Ward leading Ravens & Chimes and you might have a decent feeling of what a trip to Alaska feels like.
Yeah, those are some big comparisons for a band that doesn’t even have a website but were I betting woman, I’d place some smart money on the fact that once Alaska wraps up the debut they’re working on as we speak, it’s only a matter of time before “big name” indie labels pay attention and Alaska breaks out of the frozen tundra and into the warm ears of indie kids everywhere. Musically, the band has talent in spades. Alaska is pretty obviously a d.i.y. recording but either the band got damn lucky or there’s a perfectionist or two in the group as the sounds on “Manitoba” and the infectious “Bread & Butter” could fool most ears into thinking this band had, you know, quite a bit of money when recording it’s seven song E.P. As for lyrics, well, Brenndorfer-Zucchiatti knows what he’s doing. “You gave your love to those you can’t afford; And those you can, they don’t want it any more” Brenndorfer-Zucchiatti sings on “Fool’s Gold” before concluding the song with “You are truly beautiful but so is fool’s gold.” It’s a barb worthy of Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy, a stinging insult that even people who sung along heartily with Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” (“If all your love was wasted, then who the hell was I?”) will find to be a sick burn.
So, after living in Alaska, not only do I think it’s a lovely place to visit, but I kind of really want to live there. The best part? You can live there too! The band’s E.P. is free! Free! What are you waiting for? Snag it and fall in love.