Two Brits Do Justice to the Mid-'70s New York Rock Sound
Taking a page from deceptively simple ‘70s rock artists like Television and Talking Heads, as well as lavishly produced British pioneers like the Rolling Stones, Brooklyn’s Alberta Cross announces itself with force on its newest LP, Songs of Patience. Although the album is relatively brief, its consistent quality and knack for intrigue and sentiment grants it a lot of staying power. Few bands make such a grand impression this easily.
Formed several years ago by two Englishmen, Petter Ericson Stakee (vocals/guitar) and Terry Wolfers (vocals/bass), Alberta Cross sort of mixes British elegance with Southern rock energy. Their debut full-length, Broken Side of Time, came out in 2009, and they’ve since expanded the official line-up to a quintet that includes Sam Kearney, Austin Beede and Alec Higgins. Finally, their influences include the Band, Neil Young and the Raconteurs. As the title implies, Songs of Patience is all about allowing time to take its toll; the past is gone, the present is palpable, and the future holds untold possibilities.
“Magnolia” starts things off with invigorating percussion, pleasant harmonies, and vocal timbres that express both rebellion and peace. The closing chorus is especially likeable. “Crate of Gold”, on the other hand, is a much more raucous track, as the guitars are more distorted and the vocals are slightly more distant (as if they’re being filtered through a megaphone). Still, it’s quite engaging. One of the best tracks on Songs of Patience is “Lay Down”. A subtle somberness permeates through the chord progressions, and the restrained usage of piano is a nice touch. Really, the track has a lot in common with some of Tom Petty’s more impassioned pieces.
The psychedelic strings and guitar work of “Come on Maker” help it stand out, as does the sheer emotional gravity of “Ophelia on My Mind”. A ballad at heart, the song is made exceptional due to the way its orchestration complements its sorrowful melody, and its implied connection to Hamlet (and thus, broken hearts and suicide) makes it even more powerful. It’s probably the best track on the record. Similarly, “I Believe in Everything” is easily the catchiest track (its production is fantastic, too), and “Life Without Warning” would be perfect to close out a dramatic television show aimed at teenagers. The album concludes with “Bonfires”, which is the most sparse and organic track here. Organized around acoustic guitar, piano and vocals, it conveys bittersweet longing and closure with ease; in fact, it feels very much like a lost track from the Dear Hunter’s most recent masterpiece, The Color Spectrum, albeit with an inferior singer.
Songs of Patience is a very good record. Although some may wish for more diversity within the set (these songs contain a lot of the same techniques and styles), as well as more layers to flesh out the core songwriting, there’s still plenty to like. The group managers to capture the excitement of live performance within the well-produced tracks, which makes the album feel simultaneously raw and refined, and it’s clear that some serious issues and feelings pervade the bluesy rock music. It’ll be interesting to hear where Alberta Cross goes from here.