Alaska are a beguiling band. Not beguiling in the sense of the word that the fifty something lothario character in an old black and white movie might refer to the young subject of his affections, but more specifically in the manner that they are weirdly dynamic and ultimately extremely modish.
Initially this sense of ‘beguiling weird’ is found in the strange Darren Hayman (The French, Hefner) left-field archetypal indie-pop vocals of Torben Schmieder, that is accentuated due to his German accent. The best examples of this are seen in the first half of the EP where he wraps his vocals around ‘little stories’ laced with delicious suburban minutiae, in a track like Every Other Monday (see below). It is essentially Hefner meets Kings Of Convenience in its simplistic ear-worm characteristic.
Every Other Monday
However, it is in the second half of the album that Alaska really build upon this early brilliance. Here the sound shifts to a more guitar/jangle-pop driven dimension. Schmieder’s luminously warped vocals begin to become increasingly swathed in Stephan Dublasky’s chiming and jangled guitar riffs, which take centre stage thus preventing even the merest nod towards a twee-pop classification.
The best example of this is in the exquisite penultimate track, Non Silent Night. This starts off with a low grumbling bass riff, before developing into various riffs of increasing jangled intensity. The fact that the track ends up on an almost C86 reference point, whilst collecting 200 notes for passing the Dinosaur Jnr ‘go sign’ on the way, is indicative of both the dynamism of the EP and the brilliant musicianship of the band.
This dynamism is further emphasised in two tracks (We Don’t Sing Anymore and Naked Killed Babies) where Schmieder is accompanied by just piano and brief strings interludes. These tracks exude the same sort of off-centre sparse showmanship that Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) did in her solo work. Just Schmieder, a piano and the weirdly compelling need to listen to his every utterance.
Sometimes weird is the best musical characteristic available…this is one of ‘those’ times.