Released: 3rd May 2019
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a six-piece band that flip between minimal beats, intense sax solos, and warped guitar riffs might be doing “a bit too much”. In any other hands, this brand of pop oddness could feel try-hard and a little obnoxious.
But, luckily, ALASKALASKA know just how far to push things; letting their idiosyncrasies shine without throwing things into chaos. On their debut, ‘The Dots’, this delicate balance brings some seriously funky experimental pop out to play.
With tracks like “Meateater” and “Monster”, both featured here, the New Cross-based six-piece led by Lucina Duarte-Holmes revealed themselves as a band that refused to be labelled. More used to performing at the Royal Albert Hall, their jazz backgrounds seemed a far cry from the angular grooves of “Meateater”. Though hints of it can be felt in the experimental style and, most clearly, in Fraser Smith’s smooth saxophone, ‘The Dots’ continues to show a band that isn’t ready to be labelled.
In fact, this mindset plays a large part of the album’s DNA. Tackling the frustrations of being asked to behave and present yourself in certain way to conform with popular opinion, it’s a record borne out of a realisation that the only person that can define you is you. About taking control of your own humanity.
One of the album’s highlights, ‘Moon’, is, as Duarte-Holman quite bluntly puts it, about PMS. There’s nothing more human than that. Here she tries to regain control at a time when it feels like everything is fighting against her. Jittering guitars punctuated by blasts of saxophone lead us through this idiosyncratic tale of neurosis, the clash of sounds bringing to life this chaotic state of mind.
Duarte-Holman’s crisp, wandering vocals are often a highlight, as with ‘Moon’, breaking through the kaleidoscopic layers like a burst of light. So when autotune is brought out, particularly on “Arrow” and “Skin”, it feels jarring; as though the band are muffling one of their biggest assets. There’s an attempt to emulate Purity Ring’s Megan James, who uses autotune to intoxicating effect, but in ALASKALASKA’s hands, it feels a little languid.
It may come from the fact that the group tried recording tracks in as few a takes as possible, to retain the spontaneity of their jazz heritage. This leads to ideas that don’t come together as well as they could; with a little bit more polish, they could become something special. But if this is a record all about humanity, then these fallibilities seem only natural.
At the same time, this process leads to some truly wonderful moments. “Sweat, baby / Salt never tasted so good / Loving you feels so infinite”, Duarte-Holman sings on ‘Sweat’ with a bruising vulnerability akin to Elena Tonra, albeit with more hope. Backed by sparse guitars and the humming of the studio, it’s a rare breather but a beautiful one.
‘Tough Love’ almost feels like ALASKALASKA taking on this unique recording routine head on. “Who gives a shit about my opinions? / Who gives a shit about my point of view?”, Duarte-Holman muses, as though she’s questioning why she’s taken to the creative field at all. This is all before the explosive chorus where the band throw those niggling questions to one side and accept that their creativity does matter.
And it really does. In ‘The Dots’, ALASKALASKA have created a debut that’s fizzing with energy. The melding together of sounds and styles may not always work, but ‘The Dots’ is never boring. When that unique blend does click together, ‘The Dots’ is as exciting as anything you’ll hear this year. It’s an unpredictable, flawed record, but it’s all the more human because of it. Try getting some of those off-kilter grooves out of your head after that first listen.