The Alps are a San Francisco band whose instrumental blend is positively hypnotizing. They have previously been compared to “European soundtrack music,” which is interesting to me, as I have no idea what that would mean. What I do know is their fourth album, Le Voyage is a great one, and a record I have been playing nonstop for the past few weeks now.
My guess is the soundtrack tag stems from the variety of styles The Alps explore. Once upon a time, film soundtracks reflected the various moods of the movie. Pink Floyd’s Obscured By Clouds, from Barbet Schroeder's Le Vallee (1972) is a fine example. The structure of Le Voyage is similar. It is very orderly (as soundtracks usually are), and features a mix of musical flavors. None of this really matters in the end though, as it is the songs themselves that will make or break a record.
Le Voyage is full of glorious music. The acoustic guitar piece “Drop In” opens the disc, and reminds me of a longer version of Steve Hackett’s “Horizons,” from Foxtrot by Genesis. The prog connection is never really too far away from The Alps, but not in the excessive manner that deep-sixed the genre.
Side one is perfectly programmed, with short one-minute interludes separating the longer, more fully realized cuts. The psychedelic “Marzipan” comes after “Drop In,” and leads into the fiery martial drums of “Crossing The Sands.” This track features the best superfuzzed guitar since Mark Farner’s on Grand Funk Railroad’s “Paranoid.”
Fifty-one cute seconds of “Petals” leads us back to sometime in the early seventies, and the beautiful “St. Laurent.” This song does not sound dated in any way though, there is just a laid-back vibe to it that reminds me very much of the era.
Side two dispenses with all the peripheral activity to get down some seriously trippy music. And what better instrument to evoke an elevated mood than the sitar? “Black Mountain” is the revenge of Ravi Shankar on the Quiet Beatle. For here, unlike the clumsy “Within Without You,” the sitar is effortlessly incorporated into the tune as a perfectly appropriate coloring device.
“Black Mountain” segues into the title track, "Le Voyage" — which at nearly ten minutes in length, is accurately named. Like all good journeys, this one starts out slow, and builds momentum. The switch from acoustic to electric guitar midway through is the key, but this is no one-man show. All three members shine, as they have throughout the album.
Finally we come to “Telepathe,” which begins with sitars, but soon moves into an entirely fresh region of sound. The drums are more prominent here than ever before, as is the bass. The track circles in on itself, while at the same time building an intensity unlike anything else on the album. It all comes to a head towards the end, with nothing but a blissful fade-out before the needle lifts.
The Alps are my fave-rave of the moment, and I very much recommend Le Voyage to all adventurous listeners.