Alps
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Alps

Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia | INDIE

Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia | INDIE
Band Alternative Avant-garde

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Alps, aka Sydney's Chris Hearn, has put our taxpayer money to good use, using a government arts grant to craft Alps Of The World. The record's title is to be interpreted literally, with each of its eight tracks being recorded in a different country. Accordingly they are named Of Belgium, Of The USA etc. It's lo-fi electronica that becomes poppy should Alps feel like making it so. Of Australia sounds like the chemical derivative of floor scrapings from a sad gothic disco (in a good way) and as you might expect, its natural rival Of New Zealand is far inferior. Of Ireland seduces the ears into an oppressive digital waltz, a nine-minute coagulation of beats and shimmering synths. Alps' voice is occasional, mixed far off in the distance. Alps Of The World is a little too detached at times and sits awkwardly between EP and full-length but nonetheless is a thoroughly engaging release. - Rave Magazine


When Alps, aka Chris Hearn, arrived home from a lengthy world tour last year, his first Sydney show was an intimate backyard concert in Enmore. His equipment was suffering and worn, but the sub-20 attended audience was typically transfixed. As is often the case in Sydney though, there was fierce neighbourhood intervention: a shrill inner-city resident was aghast at the audacity of kids playing their ancient, barely amplified organs in a (bloody) inner-city backyard in broad daylight, and so Hearn was forced to ceasefire. The federal election coverage was on, after all.

He played a few tracks from his 2006 Shriek Sounds LP Alps of New South Wales, and honestly, in a live environment these songs felt strangely bereft. It might be that the intentions codified within the home-recorded, DIY aesthetic (an immediacy of expression, an inherent honestly in four-track humility) often veil lacklustre material with an agreeable obscurity, or an ideology a certain minority can identify with. For Alps, the method of execution is a major identifying quality – to tag these emanations to a face and an array of half-shitted Porta sound organs has a dulling effect.

Not so much the case with this new record though. Alps of New South Wales often felt utterly miserable – some of the lyrics were so explicitly resigned that there was an element of masochism involved in listening to them. Alps of the World is still infused with those oddly incongruous major-key melodies that are gradually subsumed by ominous organ-drone murk, but it’s a whole lot weirder, more psychedelic, more dynamic. There’s the sense that while Hearn travelled the world he inherited new colours to pour into his songs.

There are earnestly strummed guitars on ‘of The USA’, during which Hearn sings “the start of a day is the end of another on all days but today”. Previously this line could be nothing but desperate, but in the context of Alps of the World – with all its colours and cryptic mood swings – it could be an expression of desire.

The most telling moment on the record is ‘of the UK’, where Hearn addresses the liberation and loneliness of travelling solo. It’s a minimal tune for voice and accordion, and Hearn’s vocals sound just as resigned as always, but it works – there’s an environment in the words, a panorama in the music, something to dwell or ruminate over.

While previously Alps couldn’t help but make you miserable, now it makes you wonder with wide-eyes and occasionally a smile. It’s a stopgap record before his next, apparently more ‘fleshed out’ outing, but let’s hope Alps keep travelling in this direction. - Mess and Noise


Alps is New South Welshman Chris Hearn, and this is his third LP. Hearn is a bedroom producer of sorts, using drum machines, organs and dreamy vocals to craft at once introspective and worldly ambient tunes. New South Whales is, as the name implies, a record about whales, with each track inspired by and named after a different whale. Narwhal is a favourite with its 8/8 on-the-floor, double-tracked kick drum pattern that modulates subtly within the time signature. This juxtaposes Hearn’s evanescing vocals (which could be underwater themselves) while the minimal organ adds a certain sublime quality to proceedings. Wet reverb and delay sounds give each track a submerged vibe, while styles shift from shuddering indie-tronica (Minke Whale), to ‘80s synth aesthetics (North Atlantic Right Whale), tranquil elevator music (Beluga), atmospheric carnival doom (Blue Whale), The Fall-esque post-punk (Goosebeak Whale), post-Radiohead breaks (Bowhead Whale), and spacey electronica (South Atlantic Right Whale). Hearn’s ability to pen catchy, unorthodox songs isn’t immediately evident – smothered as they are in evasive production – but once you get past marvelling at the strange sounds you’ll discover a record that’s both beautiful and unique. - Rave Magazine


I first encountered Chris Hearn – a.k.a. Alps – at an instore performance he gave in the late, lamented Sound And Fury record store in Surry Hills, Sydney. What I encountered were waves of mouldy distortion emanating from his ancient keyboard punctuated by rudimentary glockenspiel banging, mini disc backing beats and buried vocals. It was a warm and inviting. It was new folk music made on the cheap refuse instruments of the new century. I’ve seen him a few times in the years since, as have accumulated thousands on his almost never-ending world tours, and am always left with the same feeling and a huge smile on my face.

His recorded work, which I’ve also almost managed to keep a complete track of has, by comparison, been a slight disappointment, but I think this is mostly due to differing expectations on the function of a recording as opposed to a live set. Masked under washes of all things lo-fi, the sounds on his recordings are, by definition, detached from the listener. They have offered other cerebral pleasures, and important ones at that, but not the womb-like envelopment his live shows offer. Which brings me to his newest album, Alps Of New South Wales.

From the outset, ‘White Whale’ delivers something that comes very close to the feeling of Alps’ music live. The stereo spectrum is opened up, sounds are distinct and everything is enveloping. Fear not – this is not really a concession to anything commercial. The sound of whatever arcane machine was used to record is still present, the keyboard is still buried under 3 or 4 layers of warm overdrive, and there’s absolutely no risk of being able to decipher what is actually being sung. ‘MInke Whale’ offers a melody reminiscent of pop music buried under heavy delays and pulsing waves of synth. ‘North Atlantic Right Whale’ is built on a synth arpeggio that The Knife would be proud of and ‘Narwhal’ echoes Joy Division post-punk. Actually, what is most striking about this album is the breadth of styles explored and new techniques employed (are they live drums I hear clattering away on ‘Goosebeak Whale’?). Where previous releases have generally been explorations on a theme, there’s a breadth to Alps Of New South Whales that continually surprises and holds attention.

All of this might make it sound like some sort of gentrification of Alps’ sound. But it is not. It’s still resolutely lo-fi. What is different is that Hearn has learned how to make lo-fi work for his music, rather than be a slave to lo-fi as an escape clause. Where much noise/drone/improv pop can seem to hide off-the-cuff laziness behind a curtain of fizz, Alps Of New South Whales is a carefully crafted, hazy gem. - Cyclic Defrost


Sea-drenched synth/keyboard tremolo workouts from Chris Hearn's Alps of NSW project, literally an album of whale music that foregrounds the sultry synth globules to the point where they're all-encompassing, gently washing around in the bath, caressed by the odd synthetic drum pulse and Hearn's wafting echoplexed vocals. The tracks weave around relatively simplistic melodic patterns but do so with an ambiguous charm, although the dusty synth sound is often allowed to get the better of itself and slide off into a kind of cloudy dust-storm that works to obscure rather than confirm the ever-present and attractive song structure. When fully engaged with the song at hand these tracks are a quiet charm to behold, "Narwhal" and "Goosebeak Whale" points in case, exuding an almost New Romantic pop aesthetic but with tinges of the delicious superfluity of emotion from groups like Felt and The Smiths.

Alps goes a little awry when the synths aren't strong enough to support the song or vice versa - some of these tracks simply haven't got enough in them and are filled out with fuzz rather than feeling, but often a track will start to emerge from its cocoon with slowly evolving entreaties to the ocean, "Bowhead Whale" beginning in a rather lacklustre fashion but subsequently cresting a gorgeous wave around three-quarters in and sliding off into a thirst-quenching mist. The instrumental tracks don't do a great deal other than fill out the record, and when the vocals are around they don't seem to offer quite enough - granted they swoop delicately and interlace very nicely with the synth waveforms, but a little less echo and a little more clarity of tone would really give these songs an edge to compliment their curves. The last track, "Whalebone Whale", goes out in murmuring style and progresses through a catchy keyboard riff to a brightness that's rarely present in most of the album's murky explorations, a hopeful surfacing that should keep those whale watchers on the lookout in the future. 7/10 - Foxy Digitalis


For Alps’ third LP, the desired sonic connotations are spelt out bluntly on the cover. It’s a method of obfuscation if anything else, because with a few vague exceptions Alps of New South Whales doesn’t have much to do with whales, nor are the song titles (‘White Whale’, ‘Minke Whale’, etc) representative of what lies within. Previously, Chris Hearn has used place names and abbreviations derived from lyrics for his song titles, so the ones here strike immediately as arbitrary. And that’s because they are.

Arbitrary is a label some might slap onto Hearn’s previous albums, but those records - for all their tin-can fidelity and one-take looseness - are decorated with a handful of well-crafted pop songs. Alps of New South Whales really ought to be listened to as an album; the songs are more realised, illustrative and immersive, and there’s a real sense of navigating some fathomless and alien world where one must struggle to retain their cognition.

More than ever, Hearn’s reliance on cheap audio and barely audible vocalising is completely beside the point – it’s not a statement and certainly not a setback. Phantom cadences lurk within the roughly clipped sound world, and Hearn’s reverb-submerged vocals strain to be heard through the off-frequency fuzz. Here, his voice often reaches beyond his trademark offhand monotone and, particularly during ‘Narwhal’, triggers a much richer and more honest sadness than ever before.

Indeed, despite the rather twee album theme, this is sad music. Hearn’s old organ melodies – strung together by threadbare preset percussion – resonate like inverted 8-bit theme tunes, with all the pastels and primaries turned monochrome. Colour floods through this album on occasion, especially during the instrumental interludes, but this is a womb-like world, hidden away and full of its own strange traps and illusions. Perhaps the whale theme was a method of balancing an otherwise overly-candid recording for Hearn: for an artist who wields songwriting as a public confessional, its no wonder that some obfuscation is needed to obscure the heady lyrical content.

But no matter how you listen to Alps of New South Whales, one thing is certain: this album transcends Hearn’s self-imposed limitations, offering a gorgeously foreign sound world in which to ruminate. - Mess and Noise


The title of this EP really says it all. With simple means – a vintage analogue keyboard, drum machine and a handful of effects pedals – Newcastle-based musician Chris Hearn creates music that deals with the cyclical nature of time. Small thematic clues are given in the cover artwork, but really it’s the music that speaks for itself.

‘Cycles’ begins with washed-out keyboard tones that sound like they’re beamed in from another planet. A drawn-out melody emerges, while underneath a slowed-down drum beat putters away. Hearn’s monk-like vocal sounds infinitely weary, before segueing into ‘Evolution’. This is a reworking of a track from an earlier release, The Origin of Species EP. Based around a heavily delayed beat, it’s stark in its minimalism and repetition, but over time it does indeed evolve.

The final song, ‘Movement’, displays the kind of motorik rhythm and potentially infinitely recurring melodic motif often associated with electronic pioneers such as Kluster. It becomes progressively subsumed by a distorting effect, which keeps blurring its edges like a camera lens losing its focus. As the beat is drowned out, different cycles emerge, until the music consists of layers of electronic pulses.

What’s fascinating, is that all this is achieved in three tracks that don’t last longer than the average pop song. Hearn’s creations state their point quickly and then fade away. In conjunction with the simple tools he employs, this lends them a domestic aura, a point emphasised by the snapshot used on the CD cover. This smallness of scale is a large part of Alps’ appeal. Technology is not something to be fetishised, but merely a means to create the work itself.

While Hearn has stated that all of Alps’ releases are grounded in conceptual and semiotic approaches, it’s not necessary to be aware of these to appreciate the music. Nothing here is laboured. In fact, all music on this EP was improvised live with no overdubs or editing. This immediacy engages the listener in the same way a live performance does, encouraging active listening and an immersion in the moment. The EP’s length is equally perfect and invites repeated listening – surely something its creator would encourage. - Mess and Noise


Discography

2011 - Alps of New South Wails (LP) - seeking new label
2010 - Dead Scene (7"EP) - Past Futures
2010 - Cycles (EP) - Independent
2010 - Alps/Forest Spirits (split tape) - Teepee Magic
2009 - Alps of New South Whales (LP) - Beat is Murder
2008 - Alps of the World (LP) - Independent
2008 - Alps/Snowfield (split 7") - Teepee Magic
2007 - Alps/Jasmine Loop Control (split 3") - Wilting Flower
2007 - Alps/Frase+Bri (split 7") - Shriek Sounds
2006 - Alps of New South Wales (LP) Beat is Murder/Sound & Fury
2006 - The Origin of Species (8"EP) Shriek Sounds
2005 - Alps (EP) - Independent

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Bio

From the dusty plains of country New South Wales, Australia, Alps has continued for more than half a decade to play analog keys, clean guitar, reverby vocals, drum machines, field recordings and pedals; creating washed-out ethereal popscapes that predate the current international lofi pop zeitgeist.

Live, Alps has performed over 300 shows in 12 countries, including three USA tours, three European tours, and played an endless amount of shows in Australia and New Zealand. Alps has performed alongside acts such as Animal Collective (US), Abe Vigoda (US), Xiu Xiu (US), Caribou (CAN), The Radio Dept (SWE), Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (US), Castanets (US), Six Organs of Admittance (US), Robin Guthrie (of the Cocteau Twins), Get Hustle (US), Arrington De Dionyso (US), Jane (US), The Dodos (US), This Song Is A Mess But So Am I (US), Wolf Eyes (US), White Rainbow (US), John Vanderslice (US), Kevin Blechdom (GER), Rory Storm (NZ), Japanther (US), & Thieves Like Us (SWE).

Since inception in 2004, Alps has released a wide plethora of releases, including three full length albums and multiple singles, split and EPs. A label to release the new album, "Alps of New South Wails", due out early 2011, is currently being sought.