Alaska in Winter


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An artist who uses Autotune, cheap-sounding rhythm machines, and multi-part song formats as profligately as Brandon Bethancourt does is just begging you to hate him. So it's pleasantly frustrating, on the second Alaska in Winter album, to find it so utterly impossible to do so. Bethancourt's secret seems to be a sort doubling-down on irony -- the schmaltzily descending chord progressions, the vocoderish vocal effects, the blissfully bittersweet melodies, and the lovely, straightforward harmonies are so sweetly cheesy that they come full circle and come across as completely sincere. Every song is like a variation on a familiar theme: the synthesizer arpeggios and wheezy keyboard on "Berlin," the house-inflected "Highlander, Pt. 1" (which is paired with an even prettier "Pt. 2"), and the gently chugging synth-and-banjo pop of "Knorrpromenade" all evoke the 1980s in various ways; "Speed Boat to Heaven" is more complex than it sounds at first, with strange harmonies playing off a nervous, burbling synthesizer and unsettled rhythms. At times Bethancourt's charming vagueness threatens to dissolve into self-indulgence, as on "Streetgang, Pt. 1" -- which is pretty enough, heaven knows, but comprehensible lyrics would have made it even better. And the album's closing track sounds like a not-altogether-successful nod to Nick Cave. Overall, though, Holiday is loads of sweet, wide-eyed fun.

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