Sic Alps

Napa Asylum

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AllMusic Review by

The two-and-a-half-year gap between Sic Alps' 2008 album U.S. EZ and Napa Asylum was pretty sizable, especially considering how prolific the band had been up to that point. While Matt Hartman and Mike Donovan took some time to catch their breath, they signed to Drag City (which reissued A Long Way Around To A Shortcut in 2009) and became a trio, adding guitarist Noel Von Harmonson to the fold. Despite these changes, Sic Alps remain fundamentally themselves on Napa Asylum -- there is still lots and lots of noise, and it still sounds like they’re singing to themselves more than for anyone else. However, this sprawling mosaic of 22 songs has more room for melody and nuance than any of their previous albums, and they divine many moods and sounds within their fuzz. “Cement Surfboard,” “Ball of Fame,” and “May Ltd” are fine examples of what happens when a poppy mood strikes the band; “Wake Up, It’s Over” and “Super Max Lament on the Way” are wispy interludes; and “Zeppo Epp”'s guitar filigrees show Sic Alps are even capable of delicacy. Yet the nearly four-minute-long “Trip Train” shows the band’s commitment to dense, unrelenting, old-school noise rock, and also serves as a reminder of why Sic Alps make perfect sense on Drag City: at different points on Napa Asylum, the band evokes venerable Drag City artists like Royal Trux, U.S. Maple, and early Pavement. The album’s heart, however, belongs to the druggiest rock the ‘60s had to offer (it even ends with a backward recording!). “Meter Man” is a psychedelic pop nugget for feedback and piano, “The First White Man to Touch California Soil” gets heavy with shades of blues-rock, and “Ranger” is buoyed by booming acid rock drums. Even -- maybe especially -- quieter tracks like “Eat Happy” and “Country Medicine” have a decidedly psychedelic aftertaste, suggesting the kind of music Skip Spence might have made if he’d had a bedroom eight-track. Napa Asylum is probably Sic Alps' most immediate album, but it’s still so sprawling that describing it as such is like trying to catch smoke. Regardless, its hazy summertime ease and organic flow make the time it takes to sink in well worthwhile.

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