one worth waiting for: Napa Asylum by the San Fran trio, slated to be released Jan. 25 by Drag City.
“A limitless sense of possibility,” enthuses our reviewer.
By Jennifer Kelly
Sic Alps, out of San
Francisco, has picked up a new member and a new label
since their last release, U.S. EZ,
in 2008. The new member is Noel Harmonson, previously best known as the
echo-plex guy in Comets on Fire, and the new label is Drag City, but fear not,
there is not much either of Comets on Fire’s
amp-fueled insanity, nor of Drag City’s freak folky strumminess, in this
two disc vinyl extravaganza. In fact, if anything, I’d say Sic Alps has drifted
a bit further from folksiness, a bit closer to pop with these 22 tracks. Where U.S. EZ was studded with primary-colored
campfire songs, a la “Gelly Roll Gum Drop,” the new Napa Asylum (Drag City) veers into Beatles-esque pop fantasies like
“Saint Peter Writes His Book” and “Meter Man” which, but for a certain amount
of fun-house mirror distortion and woozy echo, could fit onto a Nuggets comp.
Like U.S. EZ, Napa Asylum feels raw and unfinished,
its songs sketched in broad magic marker strokes, rather than carefully shaded
and cross-hatched. There’s a liminal quality to many of these tracks, as if we
are catching them in the act of turning into songs rather than as finished
works. That makes prolonged listening somewhat difficult and tiring, as you are
continually asked to fill in the blanks between what’s on the disc and what a
given track might become. However, it also opens up a limitless sense of
possibility. These songs are portals into a freakishly lighted, semi-surreal experience
that never quite accords with what you expect.
The song-like tracks are interspersed with noisier, less
structured bits, chaotic “Trip Train,” for instance, sandwiched between breezy,
skewed Citay-ish “Zeppo Eppo” and Woods-like “Ball of Fame.” Moments of real,
though non-standard beauty, like dream-fuzzed “Wake Up It’s Over,” float up
like mirages out of a clashing, clattering confusion, all the more lovely for
their junkyard surroundings. I’m not sure that Sic Alps really had enough
material for a 22-song, double-disc fourth album, but there are some gems here,
taking shape even as you listen and turning into strange and beautiful little
episodes that are almost, but not quite, pop songs.