Alas is a continuation of where 1997's Forbidden EP left off. Here are more soft tones filled with quiet spaces, yet they effortlessly hold one's attention thanks to the superbly recorded array of sounds that flash out from those other worlds. Songwriting-wise, nothing jumps you on first play the way "The Thick and the Thin" or "Bass Crawl" did on Forbidden, but there remains a method to Jeff Martin's meandering. So many of the songs tantalize and tickle, with little explorations of chiming/ringing sounds that patter in the background underneath his low-voiced, near-whisper singing. It can be slowly mesmerizing, full of sprinkled stardust. Much more this time, alas, Alas takes strong patience. OK, perhaps one song has instant pull. Even without the buoyant xylophone that runs up and down and then up again throughout it, "Only in the Desert" would have been the most-loved track. Its guitars are a little louder, a little more tugging, and more concentrated, pulling you in, with drummer Joey Waronker pushing you back out (his restrained touch-playing is exemplary throughout). Likewise, the opening "Jump Up" has some delicious minor hooks (and one of those beautiful background feedback lines, an Idaho specialty), and the effervescent, bass-driven "Tensile" makes dynamite use of Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur's sweet, cooing voice as the key backing component. What makes Alas a more initially impenetrable LP is the abundance of near-silent songs. Never mind "slowcore," a description that's never fit Idaho, with their prettier, nicer, more flower-fresh smelling, and more floating sound. This is more like lullaby-core, like the subtle slip from consciousness to sleep as one begins to dream. As ever, the final tracks are the ultimate examples, as "Yesterday's Winding" (with haunting voices behind 30 seconds of Auf Der Maur's polite spoken words) merges into the pitter-patter pulsation of "Leaves Upon the Water," leaving one feeling teased, yearning, and lulled into a twilight state of mind. Beautiful again.
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AllMusic Review by Jack Rabid