Group of the Altos
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Group of the Altos

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Avant-garde




""Sing (for Trouble) by Altos""

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Sing (for Trouble)” by Altos (2012, from the album Altos).

As part of the continuing series on artists who will be playing at the upcoming 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival, today’s song is from the Milwaukee twelve-piece post-rock orchestra Altos. They formed in 2006 as a five piece centered around a trio of guitars. They’ve gradually grown in size, with a wide variety of instruments and they now describe themselves as “a surly high school orchestra”. Everything that I’ve read about them includes some pretty obvious references to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Dirty Three, and so on. I can’t say that I have too much issue with those comparisons. I would lean more on that Dirty Three reference than the others, but I won’t pitch a fit over the others.

The band used to call themselves “Group of The Altos”, but as they grew in number, they decided to trim the name to a much more manageable “Altos”. Their eponymous debut album was recorded in Justin Vernon’s studio. Daniel Spack, who is in Altos, is also in Volcano Choir with Justin Vernon.

If you’re playing along at home, it takes seven steps to get from Altos to Jenny Toomey.

Without any other goofing around, here’s today’s song:

I get a tiny bit of Explosions in the Sky. I mostly get Dirty Three, though. That’s the comparison that I’d stick with. Once the vocals kick in, I’m also reminded of Efterklang. It’s the multiple co-ed voices meshing together and coming at us in those staccato bursts.

I love how the guitars will build up and swell just a bit from time to time. There’s a vague threat that it’s going to turn into a big, loud guitar thing. At the same time, the violin and viola bits do the same, threatening to take over and turn it into a really big, anthemic thing. It doesn’t quite do that either. The two contrasting styles play at each other a bit, until they both get their way there in the final minute. Something tells me that this is an amazing song to see performed live. I’m guessing that it’s the show-stopper.

You can get the three-track album from bandcamp by paying $5 USD (or more) here.

Altos will be playing Thursday night of Hopscotch. They have the 10:30 pm to 11:30 slot at Lincoln Theatre. In that same exact slot, Free Electric State will be at Kings. I’ll probably be at the first part of Free Electric State, then I’ll hope to make the second half of Altos. - This Is That Song

"Group of the Altos: Begin, and Begin Again!"

My initiation to Group of the Altos came, as most great music recommendations do, via friend. I was at Burnhearts talking to Nick from Decibully/Headlights about taking some Milwaukee bands to SXSW. He suggested I talk to Daniel Spack about his new band. I’d known Daniel for some time, his resume runs pretty impressive as a member of both Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir.

We’ll now rewind to last month. On a sunny Austin morning, the 11-piece Group of the Altos begin the day at my first ever SXSW showcase. Their set was one of my most favorite memories from my time in Austin. Their music was then, and remains today, a great way to start a day. It also works well in the wee hours of the morning. I had the privilege of spending some great, great times with these guys while in town and can say that their music stands up against the great people they are.

I’ve gushed too long. Please download and listen to “Begin, And Begin Again!” below which starts off their Tour EP, which I highly recommend you find a way to get your hands/ears on. - Muzzle of Bees

"Unconventional Group of the Altos Flies Comfortably Under the Radar"

Meekly tucked behind the main street in Bay View is Burnhearts, a nautical-inspired tavern at 2599 S. Logan Ave. that Group of the Altos considers one if its favorites. The twelve-piece Milwaukee band is known at Burnhearts for overindulging in whiskey and over-exalting Katie Rose, 29, the “bartender-extraordinaire,” she said with a laugh.
There, three of the 12 Altos met to discuss their second album, “Altos,” which they released digitally on Dec. 27 and which is currently being pressed to vinyl. Given the album’s 15 minute-length tracks and experimentation with sound and space, one might expect myriad conversations in the media regarding the band’s uninhibited melodies.
But there aren’t — and that’s just how they want it. Group of the Altos has avoided formal interviews since 2004, when they first came together. At that time, making a record was never their intention.
“The idea was just to keep working,” guitarist Daniel Spack, 36, said. “We would write one piece of music, perform it, toss it out, and then start writing another one.”
Spack has stood as the band’s leader since forming the group as one of “two boys in a basement banging rocks together,” he said with a laugh.
Since then, the band has acquired trumpet, piano, guitar, upright and standard bass, percussion, violin, viola and vocals. Even with such a large group, they may even hire two more musicians in the future. “Who knows?” Spack said with a laugh. Spack shares a similar carefree sentiment toward the band name, which has shifted from Group of the Altos to Altos to Some of the Altos and back to Group of the Altos, again.
Unlike the band-naming process, actually making music requires stringent planning and loving humility. The three describe it as an “agreeing process” that comes with joining the band, an agreement that eliminates all ego from the group and leaves no room for embellishment or improvisation.
Guitarist Ken Palme, 45, and vocalist/violinist Marielle Allschwang, 26, joined Spack in discussing the romance behind their music-making process. The three share a warmness that only Allschwang’s hot toddy could rival.
“That’s solely any reason why this band is together,” Spack said, “From the intimacy of knowing each other.”
Palme and Allschwang nodded in agreement, and Allschwang blushed while sharing how Group of the Altos has shaped her as a musician. “You can write a song and gift it to others and be completely comfortable with it being changed,” she said. “It’s an amazing, mind-blowing thing that I would never have known about if I hadn’t had met these people.”
Group of the Altos recorded with Brian Josephs and Jaime Hansen, two engineers/producers, in Eau Claire, Wis. in May 2011. Spack, Allschwang and Palme sing high praise of Joseph and Hansen. Palme questions if they would ever work with anyone else.
Hansen shared a similar sentiment of the “wonderfully down to earth people” and “relaxed, summer camp-y recording process.”
“The tracking session went so well you could really let the music be what it is,” he said. “(Group of the Altos) have such a unique thing you don’t really want to put your own footprints on it.” - Marquette Tribune

"Many Altos, One Sound"

Finding a way for different personalities in a band to work together – and work well – is a tricky situation.

Be it pride, sensitivity or a unique way of hearing and envisioning things, talented musicians are often slightly off-center when it comes to the creation of music, which is something that has caused break-ups and feuds within major and minor bands of every generation.

Now, imagine having a dozen members in a band. Twelve players who all have one-of-a-kind ears for sound. Twelve minds that filter and produce creativity and emotion in different ways. Twelve men and women who all want to be heard.

This is the seemingly crazy plight of Group of the Altos – or, as they're known now, The Altos.

The Altos were originally created to be an avant-garde band that never recorded, and would only compose very long pieces of music that would be performed on a one-time basis and then disposed of for the next movement in their symphony.

A couple of weeks ago Thomas Duffey, Brendan Benham, Amelinda Burich, Shawn Stephany, Erin Wolf, Daniel Spack, Todd Ringe, Adam Krause, Marielle Allschwang, Nathaniel Heuer, Heather Hass and Ken Palme – The Altos – released a fantastic three-track album called "Altos" on Bandcamp that swoops and swings and somehow manages to showcase all of the players in some way or fashion.

Music that is based around the strength of the instrumental and its ability to tell the story instead of employing vocals for that primary function can sometimes be dull and inauthentic, but what The Altos have created on their recorded project is warm and full of emotion and atmosphere, and is truly accented by the chorus-esque vocals they use in a minimalist fashion.

Guitarist Daniel Spack, who is also known for his work in Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir, talked with about the making of the music and the shift in the focus of the band. With so many different players, how do you handle all of the various visions, influences and ideas that have to happen during the composition of your songs?

Daniel Spack: It all runs pretty smoothly now. In the beginning there were a ton of different directions, but these days everyone just seems to be on the same page.

OMC: The Altos have performed at the indie Mecca, SXSW. Is there any challenge to come back home to play shows after getting out of the state and experiencing what other scenes and circumstances have to offer?

DS: It's never a challenge to come home. Besides, it seems more like whenever we leave there's a thousand people from Milwaukee around, making other scenes feel just like home.

OMC: What were some of the motivations behind the creation of "Altos?"

DS: Tom and I really started it just to see if we could make a melody sound interesting for 45 minutes. It's evolved, but still that hope is in there somewhere.

OMC: What was the creation of "Altos" like? Were the songs written as a group during jam sessions or was it a few people's specific visions that drove this new project?

DS: That's a hard one to answer. It was over a pretty long period of time, and plenty of different styles/members. Most frequently I'd put together a skeleton that we'd all build on. Other times I'll just grab one section of the band and work on one melody over and over until we could hear what happens next. Sometimes it's someone else.

OMC: Were there lots of frustrations or setbacks?

DS: Not really at all. We went through a few members along the way and that's always hard, but the band as a whole always stayed on course. As a matter of "course," it's a long one.

The initial intention was to never record. The goal being simply to compose one 45-minute song, perform it, then start on the next one, never really looking back at the ones we'd finished. As we added players, it became more and more about how to make "songs" happen, which gave us an opportunity to figure out how to do the same thing more than o - OnMilwaukee

"Altos Sing for Trouble Music Video"

Altos, a Milwaukee-based twelve piece, have just released a music video for their song “Sing (For Trouble).”
Founded by Daniel Spack of Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, Altos grew out of an attempt to write and record a single 43-minute epic song called “Rake, Rasp, And Ruin.” Obviously, they’ve moved on to other sonic pastures with their brand of orchestral post-rock.
The video was directed by Sean Williamson, a Milwaukee native, who somehow managed to wrangle cop cars, an airport, aerial footage and horses for the production, which looks rather more like a short, silent film than a music video.
Watch the video below. - Death and Taxes Mag

"Group of the Altos Silence the Crowd"

..."The final stop of the night was the Riverwest Public House (apologies to Kane Place Record Club over at Stonefly; we assume that was a killer show as well). Moon Curse played some straightforward, old-school stoner/doom metal very appropriate for its name, and then set-up began for Group Of The Altos. Amazingly, the dozen band members managed to get everything in order quickly, and as the tipsy late-night crowd gabbed away, the set began with no fanfare. It was a testament to the band’s dedication that they didn’t rush things or shy away from the quieter moments of their compositions, even as front-and-center attendees strove to drown them out with inane chatter. Ultimately, the magnificent dynamics of the band’s perfectly paced music silenced even the most oblivious onlookers. There were a couple of lump-in-throat moments just realizing that something this crazy and cool was happening in Milwaukee. Riverwest got its due Friday night, and unlike Bay View shows, the crowd didn’t clear out before the headliners." - The Onion A.V. Club - Milwaukee

"Altos: Record Release Party"

We humans are selfish creatures. We like what we like, whether it’s what excites us or what we’ve become accustomed to. I don’t really like Stonefly--the beer they make there, the food, the ambiance (aside from some pretty sweet paintings on the wall in the back corner). I’m a spoiled Milwaukee snob, and I’ve become accustomed to the beer and food that other places make, and the atmosphere of holes in the wall I’ve crawled into and out of more often. I hadn’t even been in Stonefly after dark since it was called Onopa except to use their ATM a couple of times. So I thought it was an odd choice for Altos’ record release party, but I’m sure they had their reasons, and as almost any music freak can say, I’ve seen some of my favorite shows in bad venues; it’s the music that matters.

I can’t speak for everyone who came out for this packed Saturday night show, of course; for some folks, it’s the socialization that matters. Early on in the evening, it was almost impossible to tune out the chatty crowd. During Christopher Porterfield’s brief but engrossing set, as annoying red laser lights from a wastoid novelty projector above the entrance danced around the room, I couldn’t stop imagining that the dots were sniper sights preparing to pick off gabbing hippies and jackasses. And then I’d remind myself that that’s not a nice thing to think at all. It’s tough to turn the mirror on yourself and acknowledge that you’re actually being uptight and self-righteous, and being in this Stonefly crowd was a good exercise in letting go.

Then, when storyteller Jim Winship came onstage accompanied by a few Altos, the experience became an experiment on another level. It seemed clear that the Altos couldn’t have expected the crowd to be silent and attentive as Winship told his lengthy story, preceded and punctuated by brief instrumental and vocal interludes. I got caught up in the tale a couple times, but it was a losing battle; the crowd only got louder as the story went on, and once I realized that I’d missed a good chunk of it anyway, what was the point of paying attention? What was the point of this at all? Surely the participants realized in advance that an alcohol-fueled Saturday night Riverwest crowd wasn’t going to give its full attention to this. The juxtaposition of Winship’s earnest words and the drunken crowd and Erin Wolf’s beautiful singing and the distracting red dots…hold on a second: maybe that is the point…
I thought back to past (Group Of The) Altos performances I’d attended, and I realized that a relatively inattentive crowd was a factor at every single one. It’s almost as if the band itself is a sociological experiment, pitting the music against the crowd, because a dialed-in, sympathetic crowd is too easy. The musicians even contribute, talking amongst themselves during portions of the songs when they’re not playing, smiling and interacting with friends in the audience, which would seem to break the spell of the mostly somber music. And somehow, the music never suffers; it’s only preconceptions and expectations that might harm the experience, because composure is pure bullshit every time, a common crutch for bands whose music can’t stand on its own. Of course, now that Altos have all these stunning, powerful songs, they eventually drown out and, in the long run, usually silence the crowd; this wasn’t always the case. Tonight, particularly with the Winship segment, they were testing the limits of even their friends and staunchest supporters, and this stubborn display of not-compromising was inspiring even if I couldn’t completely take it in. Maybe I’m the only person who has had this impression; I don’t presume to project these intentions onto the band, but oftentimes great art has the ability to reach people on unintended philosophical or intellectual levels.
Altos’ greatest impact still, though, is an emotional one. It’s music that might move anyone--to joy, to fear, to confusion. I keep seeing Explosions In The Sky mentio - You-Phoria

"Review: The Altos - Altos"

When I had stepped into Madison, Wisconsin over a year ago, before the move to Paris, there were enthusiastic talk around several bands that always elicited gasps. After having just left Chicago, how some bands slipped under my radar were beyond me. Collections of Colonies of Bees and All Tiny Creatures were those most spoken about, and easy to research and listen to. One, however, was elusive. Group of the Altos, who formed in 2006 and since became The Altos. Twelve members in the band, and rumor was that they would only play one song during a concert never to be heard from again. They wouldn’t record, or didn’t. Moreover, the band boasts such music masters that also enveloped Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir; the latter a far less discussed project featuring one Justin Vernon. During SXSW 2011, at the SXWisconsin showcase, The Altos hooked people with songs that (since rumors have a way of playing with minds) I feared I wouldn’t hear again. The rest of the year was spent trying to catch them live, which was always a captivating experience to behold especially at the 2nd 1st Annual Rock County Folk Symposium. At the end of 2011, five years after forming, a LP finally emerged, recorded in Justin Vernon’s own April Base studio.

Five years. Three songs only. The shortest at 6 1/2 minutes, the longest surpassing 14 minutes. Long story short…it was well worth the wait. While many try to occupy the sonic landscape of long, prolonged instruments, the Altos nearly perfect it in creating their own musical geography that works with and without visuals, live and recorded. “Sing (for trouble)” starts the LP, a lone guitar, joined by its side with a foredoomed piano and mournful strings. A minute in and already they make it difficult, dare abandon, the captivating song. It only builds, and builds, with a tenacious tension that unbelievably reaches a warily satisfying sonic pinnacle…

One song, “never named,” is the flag bearer of the album; the song that draws you in when experienced live. The drum-circle pounding, persistent and punctuated by trumpets over a bed of slide guitar hypnotizes, soothes, then abandons itself. It’s as if being led by a trusted friend along the highway over promises long since spoken, only to find them desert you, wounded, miles from all but chorused chants and repetition. The intertwined brass and strings lead that reassurance, bursting between powerful and doleful on a calculated whim. ”Him vs. hymn,” the fourteen minute opus is led primarily by piano, akin to those that rest upon creaky floorboards out West and foretell tales of woe or downtrodden debts. It’s as if taking Murder By Death’s “Those Who Left”‘s anxiety and applied it to the beautiful wavelengths of “Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption is Such a Good Movie” off of Like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing.

The entire LP, albeit three songs and under 30 minutes, perhaps may seem short, anticlimactic, and easily dismissed to the unaccustomed. Yet those who have had the chance, and those adventurous music travelers, will find The Altos’ only available record as one of the few albums that could demand its own film to be a soundtrack to its work. With Sean Williamson’s above video for “Sing (for trouble)”, one could only hope the Altos move beyond music and just create for art’s sake. (Let’s hope we don’t have to wait five years.) -

"Introducing: Group of the Altos"

I’ve become something of a closeted post-rock fan; pining for the first couple of years when Explosions in the Sky really meant something, trying to avoid the use of the word “crescendo” in casual conversation. Leading a double-life is hard, especially when the genre that turned you into the person you are today has become a clichéd, hollow-out version of its former self. “I don’t want to be that,” I think to myself, “I don’t want to be a cliché of myself.” Nevertheless, when I hear solid post-rock song, I can’t help but bear my soul to the world (or at least to the sliver of Minneapolis’ music community that reads Reviler.)

That’s especially true when the band enlists a couple of members that set down guitars in favor of traditional string or brass instruments. Enter, Group of the Altos. This dodecatet (yeah, that’s right, twelve members) rocks the weeping catharsis like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sparrows Swarm and Sing, or A Northern Chorus in their prime, with forlorn strings creaking behind an impromptu ensemble of earnest-to-goodness singers. The Milwaukee-based collective, led by Daniel Spack of Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir, combines folk storytelling with epic composition, dragon-breath jazz, and frigid minimalism.

Take a listen to the groups sorta-self-titled EP, Altos, below. - —Will Wlizlo -

"Altos' Album Covers the Bases"

Justin Vernon is getting national buzz as Wisconsin's musical wunderkind, but Vernon's Milwaukee buddy, Daniel Spack, is just as busy and ambitious.

Spack collaborated with Vernon for avant-garde act Volcano Choir, featuring Spack's fellow Collections of Colonies of Bees members, and he also helped build Vernon's famed April Base, the former veterinary clinic turned recording studio in Eau Claire County, where last year's Grammy-winning album, "Bon Iver," was recorded.

So Spack could be excused for taking several years to assemble his other musical band - a whopping 12-piece band Altos (formerly Group of the Altos) - to record its self-titled debut album at April Base last year.

Spack was at April Base doing production work for a new band called Hello Death, featuring some Altos members, when he took our call about Altos in advance of its album release party Saturday.

Who's who: Marielle Allschwang, violin; Brendan Benham, trumpet; Amelinda Burich, viola; Thomas Duffey, drums; Heather Hass, trumpet; Nathaniel Heuer, upright bass; Adam Krause, auxiliary production and musical saw; Ken Palme, electric guitar; Todd Ringe, trumpet; Daniel Spack, baritone guitar; Shawn Stephany, electric guitar and slide guitar; Erin Wolf, piano. Spack spoke for the band.

When formed: Our best guess is eight years ago. The original idea was for the drummer and I to basically figure out how to play one melody for 45 minutes, to figure out why a melody could sound that good for that long, and included in that was the idea that it would never be recorded or performed twice.

People would come up at the end of the show and thought it was interesting, and we'd invite them to come to rehearsal. People kept hanging around, so basically all of a sudden we had members.

Three years ago it really took form, and we started focusing on writing several different parts and pieces and organizing them, and then probably a year and a half ago is when we decided we wanted to record music. That led to the first album, essentially.

(The first album, "Altos," is available for free streaming and a pay-what-you-want download at

Band name back story: We had a lot of names. The first one was Jacuzzi Pants, and then there were eight other ones. . . . We settled on a name called Thunderpaw, 'cause what we were doing sonically was incredibly heavy and full of distortion and heavy drums, more like a metal band. But that got kind of boring really fast, so we took all that stuff away and were only dealing with orchestration. Two years ago we changed our name to Group of the Altos. It was what we picked out of a hat. For now, we're calling ourselves Altos.

They say they sound like: It's such a wide variety of people and pop elements, but one recurring theme is horror. It seems like that finds its way back into how we write. Even if we're all really happy, it doesn't matter, our (expletive) sounds spooky.

We say they sound like: Instrumental, atmospheric Explosions in the Sky meets the sonic force of Polyphonic Spree, without Explosions' twang, Spree's glee or that many lyrics - but with plenty of emotional power.

Original song you're most proud of: The one that gets my motor going the most is "Sing (For Trouble)." That may be the only one with the part that Tom and I wrote eight years ago, and I feel it's the one that developed the most with everyone actually participating.

Justin Vernon's influence: I'd never been in a band with vocals. I only (cared) about instrumental music. He's the only one who turned me on to singing. I love it. I'm finding old hymnal records and blaring them in my car.

Keeping 12 people in order: We honestly have so few problems, it's dumbfounding. Everyone just wants to be there and wants to be part of everything that's going on.

Unofficial band beverage: Cheap Pabst, two bucks a can. And everyone in the band drinks too much whiskey.

Favorite food on the road: - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal (in print and online)

"Group of the Altos Goes Big"

An oft-employed mentality these days seems to be the back-to-basics approach, where bands unearth straightforward styles championed by acts from previous decades. That simplification is presumed to lead toward a rawer—and therefore more authentic—sound that when done correctly comments on contemporary culture, not just the past. Milwaukee's Group of the Altos (also known simply as Altos) strove for that primordial aesthetic right from their inception in 2003, although they intended to go all the way back.

Eschewing the common bass/drums/guitar dynamic every rock band utilizes nowadays, Altos leader Daniel Spack and Tom Duffey experimented with particularly basic musical techniques. "We would really get into metal sound on concrete or something," Spack recalls. "When Ken [Palme] joined the band, we didn't even let him touch his guitar for a year." This minimalism was an attempt to better understand how different sounds worked outside the contemporary perception of music and free the members to focus on crafting melodies without considering genre.

"All the bands we were in before were always based on music, like how to write a song and play it," Spack says. "This wasn't about that. It's about why sound sounds that way, and how two sounds sound together. We took it back to nothing, and then slowly turned it back into music, somehow."

This past July, Altos placed the finishing touches on their first official release—nine years after the project began. There's definitely an avant-garde quality permeating their self-titled record, but the obscure material comes through fairly conventional means. The band achieves its sound not through digital effects or distortion, but through sheer instrumental density.

"We learned you could get greater intensity of sound by adding another person rather than hitting a pedal or something," Spack says. "For years that's all we focused on—how to make six people sound like the most gigantic thing in the world without using any effects. As soon as we figured that out, we started adding more people."

Today, Altos features an array of instruments, with 12 members in all. The band can fit comfortably on few local stages—heck, some places don't even have enough seating at the bar. But that size can seem misleading after listening to the record. Altos isn't crammed with noise; rather, various melodies are given enough room to saunter before amalgamating near a song's peak. That's not to say melodramatic shifts in volume or tone run rampant like in other post-rock acts, either. A seamless mood flows through an album that's gentle yet gloomy.

"I think everyone in the band comes from a creepy, dark place, so ultimately that's what our music ends up sounding like," Spack says. "We're always trying to fight the fact that we write horror music."

For a band that's constantly evolving, the latest step has been incorporating lyrics into songs, which Spack says he was hesitant to include until encountering some advice about treating the voice purely as musical accompaniment.

"I started working with [Justin] Vernon in Volcano Choir and I learned too much about how that can be beneficial," he says. "I never thought vocals had been interesting to work on, and he taught me a different side, where voice doesn't need to participate in a way outside of the music. That was a big lesson for me to learn."

Frankly, it's astounding that Altos even ended up releasing an album. Spack had been against the idea since day one. His plan was to compose and perform a different 45-minute set every show, embracing the ephemeral and garnering immediate reactions from audiences. He relishes that instant communication between listener and creator and aspires to engage with those who pick up the record.

"I only hope I get to meet them all and talk about what happened when they heard the album," Spack says. - Kevin Mueller - Shepherd Express (print)/

"Album Review - ALTOS"

A- : Since forming in 2006, Milwaukee’s Group Of The Altos has pegged itself as “a surly high school orchestra.” It’s a fine description, but it only gets half the story right. At 12 members strong, the group certainly shares the size and breadth of an orchestra, with marching-band brass swapped out for violins, violas, and saw. But on the breathtaking new Altos—a title to match a recently pared-down band name—the group’s demeanor isn’t so much surly as it is menacing. One glance at the band’s water-bound publicity shots reveals a collective look of mundane, dead-eyed horror seemingly on loan from a Stephen King novel. (Beep beep, Ritchie. They all float down here.) Altos is a thrilling and deeply unsettling record, made even more unnerving by the unexpected undercurrents of life lurking below.
Couched squarely in the sometimes-overcrowded niche of instrumental post-rock, Altos’ music has nevertheless managed to stand out from the crowd, thanks in part to a prominent avant-garde edge. The three songs on the new, nearly 30-minute album retain that sense of sinister experimentation, but stand as the group’s most accessible to date. Opener “Sing (For Trouble)” starts slowly, with simple piano chords and plucked guitar strings providing a foundation for mournful strings. It isn’t until the four-minute mark that the track stretches its legs, with Altos’ boy-girl collective intoning the song’s title in a breathy and resigned sigh. The track’s final minute is a wonder, beginning with a sudden burst of noise and feedback before shooting off into a wholly unexpected, overdriven rock climax. That Altos manage to stuff all that in 60 seconds speaks to the group’s unique abilities, and it’s peculiar sense of economy.
The bulk of Altos is given over to the third track, “Him Vs. Hymn,” a moody 15-minute mini-epic that slowly moves back and forth from hushed and creeping to coiled and cacophonous. But it’s the back-loaded “Never Named” that contains the album’s finest moment: at roughly the four-minute mark, Altos square off—boys vs. girls—and trade vocal jabs. It’s a gorgeous and evocative moment, and conjures up images of a sex-separated high school dance, with each side regarding the other from across the gym with glowering Kubrick stares.
Recorded by Brian Joseph and Jaime Hansen at Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios, Altos shares some of Vernon’s DNA (band member Daniel Spack also does time with Volcano Choir and Collections Of Colonies Of Bees), but cuts a strange and troubling path all its own. Following the flush of Bon Iver-sparked attention to the state, the album also marks a fine first entry in what could be a pivotal year for Wisconsin music. Always inventive and never comfortable, Altos is the sound of a band creeping up behind you, and of a scene moments before the explosion. - Matt Wild - The Onion A.V. Club

"Orchestral Maneuvers"

ALTOS, a three-track epic of mini symphonies by 5-year-old band Group of the Altos, is geared toward the Cactus Club sect. Rounding out the 12-piece band's multi-guitar, drum and trumpet attack with violin, viola, more trumpets and fresh songs, it navigates from avant-garde post-rock to moody hymnal and back again. The droning soundscapes are fit for the corridors of a gallery, and they're complemented by the carefully timed cinematic swell and recession. Group of the Altos bills itself as a "surly high school orchestra." You could go further than that to "band geeks" who sound as if they grew up, saw the world and decided to beat it back with a precise but frenzied assortment of strings, horns and beats. - Todd Lazarski - Milwaukee Magazine

"Hopscotch Music Festival 2012 Lineup - ALTOS"

The dozen musicians that form Wisconsin’s Altos appear on the cover of the band’s recent eponymous debut in a series of unsmiling mug shots by Milwaukee photographer CJ Foeckler. Pull back, though, and the photos start to meld together, like you’re seeing portions of something larger, a bit like a Chuck Close portrait.

That disorienting sensation underpins the music of Altos, which first formed in 2006 under the aegis of Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir member Daniel Spack. The band bills itself as “a surly high school orchestra,” and it’s the tension between instruments that gives Altos’ music its edge. The dynamic give-and-take in the three songs that make up Altos is more akin to the rock maelstroms of Do Make Say Think and Rachels’ classical forms than it is to the Mogwai school of processed crescendos. The 8-minute opener “Sing (For Trouble)” begins with plucked guitar lines and minor-key piano chords nestling in mournful strings. Electric guitars threaten to erupt on occasion, but don’t, simply increasing the tension. Four minutes in, the boy/girl voices resignedly intone the song’s title. The track then builds into tumultuous skronk. From that chaos, a full rock ’n’ roll climax emerges. Not a lick of this sounds predictable.

In “Never Named,” they flip that construction on its head. The guitars circle each other warily, predators at a kill, while the drumbeats roil in the background. After the voices join in, the strings sweep all the tension away with a wistful melody. “Him Vs. Hymn” takes up the last half of the record and reads more like a spooky, Dirty Three soundtrack to a ghost town, as the melody drifts inexorably toward a sinister and violent conclusion.

Altos coalesced just three years ago and only decided to record 18 months after that. But something emerges from this music—and in their live shows, too—that embodies both the wintry isolation of their home state and the warmth of human interaction that, prickly as it often is, overcomes it. —John Schacht - Hopscotch Music Festival, by John Schacht


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2006. A band was born out of the likeminded musical interests of five friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (including Collections of Colonies of Bees’/Volcano Choir’s Daniel Spack), first introducing avant-leading, metal-tinged compositions to Milwaukee under the name ‘Thunderpaw’. Three (sometimes four) guitars, one drum kit and a trumpet set the foundation with core members Spack, Tom Duffey, Todd Ringe, Ken Palme and Shawn Stephany.

Desiring even more introspective compositions, the five-piece brought about the addition of Erin Wolf on piano, Nathaniel Heuer on bass/upright and Adam Krause on saw and auxiliary percussion. 2009. The band reassembled and renamed (Group of the Altos) gaining even more speed on their more classical and progressive tendencies by adding viola (Amelinda Burich) and violin (Marielle Allschwang). A second trumpet player (Brendan Benham) and eventually a third (Heather Hass) rounded up the instrumental collective to create what Group of the Altos now tags as ‘a surly high school orchestra’ -- twelve in all. 2011. Going with newly-added and freshly-penned vocals and well-worked songs in arm (and simply going by ‘Altos’), the collective took to northern Wisconsin to lay to tape the love, horror, hope and anger and quiet worry in their hearts and on their minds for nearly five years.

A.V. Club Milwaukee ~ A- rating for Altos: "Recorded at Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios, Altos shares some of Vernon’s DNA (band member Daniel Spack also does time with Volcano Choir and Collections Of Colonies Of Bees), but cuts a strange and troubling path all its own... Always inventive and never comfortable, Altos is the sound of a band creeping up behind you, and of a scene moments before the explosion."

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal ~ "Every blare of a trumpet and pluck of a guitar string is meticulously orchestrated and expertly executed, leaving few lulls...Halfway through 2012, Altos' epic, adventurous, primarily instrumental self-titled album is still the one to beat as the year's greatest local release."

The Shepherd Express ~ “There’s a tendency for even the best instrumental post-rock bands to fall back on certain patterns of loud/soft contrasts or build-ups and crescendos, but the Altos eschew those easy tropes.”

Muzzle Of Bees ~ “On a sunny Austin morning, the 11-piece Group of the Altos begin the day at my first ever SXSW showcase. Their set was one of my most favorite memories from my time in Austin…I can say that their music stands up against the great people they are.”

Mezzic ~ “They’re effectively our Explosions in the Sky, if the landscape you wandered tugged at you with the shadows of trees, then jutted stones in front of your weary path as if it could feel your emotions and play with a growing nervousness. Ending with “Bagong Ava, Bagong Hele”, the crowd’s attention was fossilized to the red lit-encircled stage.”

Reviler ~ “This dodecatet (yeah, that’s right, twelve members) rocks the weeping catharsis like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sparrows Swarm and Sing, or A Northern Chorus in their prime, with forlorn strings creaking behind an impromptu ensemble of earnest-to-goodness singers.”

The Silver Tongue (interview with S. Carey in regards to Wisconsin-based bands) ~ “Group of the Altos is an awesome Milwaukee band...I think we’ll see some more emerges in the next few years too.”

Altos recorded in May of 2011 at April Base by Brian Joseph and Jaime Hansen.
Mastered in December of 2011 at Peerless Mastering by Jeff Lipton.

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