The Alps is a three-piece group that produces a post-modern instrumental, experimental sound encompassing a diversity of avant-garde influences. Le Voyage plays like a summation of underground practices and influences over the past few years, but it is more than a collection of gestures and sly references. What distinguishes the Alps from its contemporaries is stellar production values. Although Le Voyage takes inspiration from the sidelong home-recorded jams that have come to typify some corners of the current experimental scene, the musicians craft tightly focused music. They are clearly capable of unfurling their tunes into improvisational epics, but Le Voyage‘s strength is its lean song craft.
Opener “Drop In” is a beautifully considered introduction, a pastoral acoustic-tinged track that serves as a master class in restraint, referencing everything from traditional British folk to the eccentric orchestral visions of Serge Gainsbourg collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier. It’s smart to open with a low-key number so that by the time the clusters of distorted guitar sound and insistent drum beat of “Crossing the Sands” kicks in, you have been fully acclimated to the Alps’ world. Elsewhere, “The Lemon Tree” showcases the cascading ambient loops, synthesizer feedback and tinkling minor-key piano that some contemporary electronic musicians have devoted their entire careers to in a short, accessible burst.
“Black Mountain” is a droning, sitar-tinged track, presumably a tribute the hugely influential liberal arts college in North Carolina that was home to John Cage and produced alumni like Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. This reference to artists who took inspiration from a variety of mediums fits perfectly with the Alps’ avant-garde aesthetic, which borrows from numerous artistic practices (member Jefre Cante-Ledesma runs the influential Root Strata label, which issues DVDs and art books in addition to beautifully designed CDs and LPs).
Penultimate title track “Le Voyage” is a deliberately structured journey with a mesmerizing bass line that is a case study in texture and balance. The slow buildup and explosive release that characterizes the dynamics of much underground rock is kept at bay, with the Alps emphasizing unity and harmony — not opposition or conflict — above all else. It’s impossible to resist comparing Le Voyage‘s perfectly paced interpretation of current experimental music tendencies to a film: a widescreen spectacular with a palette of bold, Technicolor instrumentation that will have you transfixed from the first note.