I’ve been having a hard time putting into words what Alpine’s latest release Yuck conveys as a whole, because their own words, the lyrics, are so direct and clear, yet consistently contradictory. Grappling with frustration in romantic endeavors, Alpine frontwomen Phoebe Baker and Lou James give voice, rhythm, and groove – and honesty – to working through love in the modern age. This six-piece from Australia was on to something good with their previous A is for Alpine, but Yuck puts the story ahead of the pop – and doesn’t sacrifice any musical element for it.
Like its predecessor, Yuck is a summer album through and through. And while the first release did not lack strong lyrical content, it relied on vague concepts and was much more about what the words could do for the music. This time around, Yuck asks what the music can do for the story. It starts out soft, with “Come On,” quiet and playful, drawing the listener in. But the rest of the release explodes with dynamic tracks that explore the boundaries of purposeful and raw lyrics, rhythm, samples, and instrumentals that coalesce in possibly the best pop release of 2015.
Pop shouldn’t be a dirty word – although it has been derived from what is popular, it has come to be known as a genre full of playful instrumentals, cheeky harmonies, and romantic themes. But who said pop couldn’t be made by skilled, thoughtful musicians? Who said pop couldn’t be a distilled scrutinization of one’s stream of consciousness about working through romantic frustrations in today’s society? Who said pop couldn’t be brilliant? Because Alpine is all of these things, and has simply outdone themselves in the realm of pop music with Yuck. It’s so good, it’s disgusting.
In their single “Foolish,” the women croon a familiar sentiment, “I’m hating what I’m feeling but I’m so foolishly attracted to you,” and the album title is explained one minute in, with: “You brought too much too much metaphor to the / Relationship, to what I see / To how I kiss, yuck.” Or is it “Yuck!”? Because from my experience, I’d use the exclamation point.
They wrestle with such common concepts, and one song flows straight into another, like the album was meant to be written. However, it’s a mature creation. In “Crunches,” Baker and James point out “I don’t wanna run away,” in repetition, alluding to a desiring to confront one’s problems instead of escape them. Yet whoever Yuck circles around (probably more than one person), they endlessly frustrate the songwriters. For next, in “Shot Fox” the sentiment conflicts with: “when you’re gone, the world seems brighter / when you’re heart beats, mine beats faster,” followed by “Up For Air” where they circle around the phrase, “you’re the one who’s gonna make me lose control,” to a trippy beat. Like a series of refined tipsy thoughts, the impulse hits at the forefront, with reason not far behind.
“Jellyfish” gets downright into anthem mode, proclaiming: “I wanna be the new, the old, not something in-between… I wanna be the light euphoric, stop beating myself up,” several times in a row. While this release deals with struggles of the head and the heart, it delivers a confident message, focused on a reminder of self-worth no matter the issue at hand. “Much More” is not shy about reiterating this, the ladies letting it all out on the phrase, “Hallelujah, on my own.”
As in a well written novel, Alpine gets to the climax of the plot towards the end in “Damn Baby,” with Baker and James out of the gate wailing, “Yeah, I’m here, and I’ve been willing to take this leap for a while now… been willing to jump right in for years now” – arguably the song many will soon use to pump themselves up before a big talk with the person they’re dating, or in a relationship with. Despite every frustration, every setback, these musicians are willing to shout out to commitment, to making a big choice, and sticking with it because they want to, because “damn baby,” they’re ready.
Then finally, in “Need Not Be,” Alpine lays claim to understanding of love being a work in progress, and pondering the close of what was worth 10 tracks of musical contemplation. “Understand, I’m learning, I’m mourning,” layers on top of shimmery waves of beats, like the tide taking them out. It’s a heavy hitter for the last track, with a slow build leading to a jazzy brass finale, asking “Do I wanna let this go now?”
Alpine asks a lot of pop, and of the listener, in Yuck. Thoughts that would normally be portrayed through a moody indie rock album are instead brought to light with something akin to Sylvan Esso on acid. The beats, instrumentals, harmonies, and lyrics link together in a chain; each part independent yet integral to the whole. It’s a detailed construct, but in the end, Yuck is an invitation to take the difficulties in one’s love life, and dance through them.