The sound of the Australian indie-pop band Alpine is so spare and meticulous, it’s hard to believe it emanates from a six-piece group. While there’s guitar, bass, keyboards and drums at play behind frontwomen Phoebe Baker and Lou James, Alpine builds its songs up harmonically, allowing its sound a sense of space not unlike modern R&B or the likes of jj and Lykke Li. “Light” was a descriptor tagged to 2012’s A Is For Alpine, and it’s easy to be smitten by that seemingly effortless attribute. But on Alpine’s charming follow-up, Yuck, a blithe sound can’t quite mask the doubt and hesitation at the heart of the songs.
“Yuck!” is how Baker and James characterize a kiss in “Foolish.” Carried along by strummed acoustic guitar, pliant bass and dabs of strings, the song details a conflicted relationship. One partner draws in closer as the other starts to draw away, even though there’s no dark secret to reveal here. Instead, the conflict revolves around vague pettiness like bringing “too much metaphor to the relationship,” leading to the confession, “I’m hating on what I’m feeling / but I’m so foolishly attracted to you.”
In “Damn Baby,” the thumping toms and backing horns sound triumphant, but the song again deals with hesitancy. This time, though, the women find themselves on the receiving end, in a relationship that’s in an arrested state, “waiting to take this leap for a while now … wanting to jump right in for years now.” They don’t sound frustrated so much as resigned. Love doesn’t come easy throughout Yuck, as in “Come On,” when Baker and James sing, “Kindness seems to be getting me nowhere,” then issue a forlorn sigh.
A stuttering keyboard line and intermittent snare roll give “Shot Fox” a sense of uncertainty that carries over to the chorus: “When you’re gone, the world seems brighter / And when your heart beats, mine beats faster.” But Baker and James then harmonize to admit the all-too-real truth: that each one might “spend too much time looking in my head.”