In an effort to appeal to a broader audience, Alpine diminish the flimsy post-punk mold of their debut effort in favor of haughty, cool detachment.
In an effort to appeal to a broader audience, Alpine diminish the flimsy post-punk mold of their debut effort in favor of haughty, cool detachment. That may sound like a contradiction in itself, but the Melbourne sextet is trying to move in two directions simultaneously -- further exploring the elastic guitar workouts of last year’s A Is For Alpine while providing an array of floaty, sun-kissed synths with an air of sophisticated panache. These are mostly pop songs in disguise, like that of receiving a callous kiss from a sweetheart whose loving thoughts roam elsewhere.
Which is to say that Yuck, their second effort, wants to provide an all-inclusive listening experience, but in its own terms. A feeling of resigned acceptance encompasses even the catchiest of singles, like in lead single “Foolish”, which cruises in easygoing exotica while front women Phoebe Baker and Lou James harmonize with certain dispassion, “You brought too much metaphor to the relationship”. The strummed acoustic guitar and fluttering digital symphony of the track does come excruciatingly close to evoking that of an Ultra-Lounge compilation, but in all fairness, it wouldn’t be Alpine if their sound doesn’t instantly strike up the image of lounging on a poolside chair with a posh attitude.
Unflattering onomatopoetic expressions aside, Yuck sure does sound exquisite. “Up for Air” adopts the stark luminosity of the recent R&B explosion, providing one of the album’s most direct and uncomplicated lyrical lines, “You’re the one who’s going to make me lose control”. It shows that Alpine does make the effort to try to expand their palette, as “Jellyfish” follows with a slow jam bound with multicolored atmospherics. Those globe-trotting influences remain intact, though, as the song transitions with some disaffected spoken-word utterances (“Stop beating myself up”) before it opens up into a seductive anthemic chorus that almost sounds like an ordered soccer chant.
Yuck shimmers with a certain plasticity that manifests itself thoroughly in its aqueous electronic flourishes, a quality that further enhances the “first world” concerns they were intent on exploring. “Damn Baby” slithers quietly with sequenced handclaps and a thumping synth beat before Baker and James warm up for another grand, horn-filled chorus: “Yeah / I'm here / and I’ve been willing to take this leap for a while”. “Crunches” is another one begging for singles potential, boasting a tropical beat and makeshift percussion elements as they continue to fuel their boy-crazy dissolutions. The track is swept up with a giddy momentum that is just utterly infectious, emphasized with such rhythmic verve that it’s easy to ignore the lack of substance at hand.
This supports the notion that Alpine are at their best when they come up with effortless sentiments that have been oft-repeated ad nauseum. The stilted language that plagues most of the verses in Yuck can be quite distracting and borderline incomprehensible, as if trying to decipher a Phoenix song; which can, in turn, become problematic, seeing as a moment that deserves dance-lead abandon can suddenly leave one looking up quizzically and with a furrowed eyebrow. One can take the wordplay as comically whimsical, perhaps even lost in translation, but the inventiveness in their electronic textures is handled with such care that it becomes secondary to the overall quality of the album.
That shouldn’t be considered a grave offense for Alpine. Yuck is a pop record through and through, after all, one that appeals with a radio-friendly and highly polished sound even when its slight electronic touches lend a playful and progressive edge. An overall sense of exclusivity permeates their blithe, sassy melodies, not to mention that its “adorableness” can occasionally irritate (cussing with fey charm is just so earnestly dopey). Still, Alpine’s transformation into a breezier, more cosmopolitan ensemble suits them. Now if only they didn’t think that they had it so bad.