Sic Alps
Breadhead and “Battery Townsley”
Drag City

For Sic Alps, evolution has become a slow expansion. What was once a duo tinkering in shambolic timbres and chromatic tones, has grown into a trio still stumbling through bedroom pop manna, just now it’s a little louder with more hooks and clearer intentions. Baby steps. But in an unlikely power move, this year’s Napa Asylum, showed Sic Alps going for broke. Double albums are hard to grasp for any fan of any band. Regardless, exhausting as that record is too digest, months later, the rewards it provides keep revealing themselves. Too much of a good thing? Nah, I could listen to these guys sample screen door creaks and play Beau Brummels covers if it fit their fancy, which makes their two new flippant singles even more intriguing. The fact that they haven’t rested on their laurels or the sprawling mass of Napa Asylum shows them in a renaissance of sorts. Each of these another step. Each a precious little chapter unto itself.

The Breadhead 7-inch EP is as happy-go-lucky as Sic Alps have ever sounded. Maybe it’s a cathartic release after plying all their inspiration into the last record, but they appear loose-limbed, shuffling about the room, winding up Face to Face-era Kinks and blowing them down with short blasts of their patented guitar skree. That’s especially true on the title track. There’s a nuanced possession to what they do which makes even the slightest drumbeat come across as methodically placed, even if by accident. You’d think by my description Sic Alps have gone whole hog all of the sudden. Not exactly. They’re simply refining the sloth-buzz of their riffs, layering their vocal yawns in new positions, making rhythms that tend to exist long after the song slides out. The blossoming weird-era of San Francisco psych owes much to the skeletal foundation laid by Sic Alps. It’s an incestuous gathering that is manifested here in their cover of The Wailers’ “Can’t You See.” Aided by the “SF Starpower Roll ’Em Up Crew,” which includes Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer and boy wonder Ty Segall among others, defines this gnarly version of ’60s crusted pop. As a statement of what’s happening now in the Bay Area, the song could be the gold standard.

“Battery Townsley,” on the other hand, is a snapshot of where Sic Alps might be headed. It’s certainly an incidental blip in the wide catalog they’ve amassed, but it feels freeing. Bongos and handclaps bumble in the background, the bass saunters in slowly, while the band rides an acoustic groove which teeters towards white-boy reggae. It’s over before you can travel into their new encampment on a bohemian grove. The flip, “Cambridge Vagina,” though, might just be that leftover that was made for B-sides. I’m finding more worth in the song’s title than in the actual tune. I do, however, like the increase in fuzz, the obscured melodies, and the short runtime. It’s a return to the sparkling crud of old, playing a nice full foil to the near nakedness of “Battery Townsley.” If anything, this, the second new batch of Sic Alps in as many months, has most of us salivating in anticipation of what comes next.
Kevin J. Elliott