Editor's Rating

Altadore's album Golden Hills is quite simply one of the albums of the year

9.3

Wow.

I haven’t been this excited about a new artist for a very long time. Wow.

I’m not claiming that this band is doing something that is going to break the world wide open. This isn’t the birth of rock and roll or hip-hop. And that’s not what they are trying to do. But it is good. Really, really good.

About a week ago Backseat Mafia svengali Jim asked me to get in touch with a man called David.  I was about to take some beds apart and move them around so I figured I might as well do it with some musical accompaniment. I picked out the Altadore link from Jim’s email and, given a recent bandcamp success, I felt primed for disappointment.

Holy fuck. Quite the opposite. “Golden Hills” is marvellous.

The album is absolutely jammed to the gunwales with clever changes of direction that keep you hooked. It’s so well tracklisted that the movement from song to song never allows the music to feel one-paced or similar. The tracks themselves feature a beguiling array of subtle shifts and perfectly-timed decisions. This attention to dynamics and detail marks this album out – the craft that must have gone into writing and revising is powerfully evident and is perhaps a result of the fact that some of these songs started out life in David Katz’s previous band, The Routine.

Throughout the album, save on the acoustic “You’ll be here someday” (which is one of those tracks that keeps you alert – dropping things down gently from the power of “Northbound”‘s closing bars), there is a signature richness of sound.  David Katz and co-producer, mixer and engineer Jeff Bond (in whose Portland, Oregon studio Clangor Den this was recorded) have done a great job with the feel of this LP. “Golden Hills” pulsates with the hum and crackle of amplification, with the heaviness of reverb and sustain. What follows are some, only some, of the songs and sections to highlight from this mini-album. There are others that could equally have been written up, but the cut has to be made somewhere.

“Where You Go” sets us off at an easy lilt but just when you’re enjoying its shuffling progress, a tiny pause: “well, I lost you too” before musically cranking it up a notch.  As you settle into that development, as David raises his vocals a level, he hits us with an emotional sucker punch – you thought it had all gone wrong but “from that moment on, I knew you’d stay” and we’re happily moving on, back into the rolling, chiming guitar from before. It isn’t over though: having nailed us with two killer pieces of teasing and timing, and lulled us with a return to the main hook, Altadore take us, via a swirling bridge, into a squall of guitar before leaving us stunned and amazed as Katz softly repeats the opening strains: “I felt it in my bones, yeah i saw it too”.

A warning just before we move on. There is a chance that “Moments” is going to be bad for the health of your speakers. My x-mini is still bruised from an initial encounter. What fabulous song is this ?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV-JL6XLEeE]

“Moments” is where you can feel the craft at its strongest. There are small changes in the structure of verse lines; fleeting inflexions in the lead guitar part; the drummer frequently shifts his patterns so neatly that you find yourself noticing only as they return to normal; there is a sparing unleashing of the different facets of David Katz’s voice – nothing is given too easily, or too often, so that when there is a rasp or a raising of volume it really means something to the listener; and different words in what you thought were going to be repeated phrases. These are vital changes that keep the song interesting, give it momentum and charge and mean that when you come back to it, it keeps giving something new and unexpected. They’re the kind of things that fuel fan fascination – getting to know the song is a pleasure, but it is also a rewarding challenge – because, in a song with such a great hook, there is more there to find, the getting to know it gives you more back.

“Districts” is an instrumental interlude that, off the back of the emotional charge and rock potency of “Moments” gives time for reflection, albeit with a haunting atmosphere. The use of space and echo reminded me of that aberration in Noah and The Whale’s career – the splendid album “The First Days of Spring”.

“Northbound” is sweet and sad and hypnotic, sustained by a sombre pulse of piano before the full band weighs in. Something as simple as the muted crash of the cymbals gives such swaying rhythm and there is a delicate, melancholy interplay between the two guitars. The narrators heart bursts open then, as he asks:

“Darling,
don’t forget me
don’t forget me when I don’t
don’t forget me when i don’t come back”

The song ends with a burst of guitars, a howl into the storm, a less scuzzed-up and angry version perhaps of one of my favourite outros of all time on “Niagara” by The Wedding Present. In a moment of sadness this week, reflecting on the passage of time and the departure of friends, I stared out of a bus window into the dead of night, listening to this song over and over and over for understanding and redemption.

The aforementioned “You’ll be here someday” performs that same trick that “Districts” did earlier, of disarming your ears. From out of the noise, a gentle ballad of hope that, despite the conclusion that “growing up was a big mistake”, knows that love is round the corner.

The album closes with “West Virginia”, spoken by a faux-defiant narrator claiming imminent departure. The central piano motif is achingly hummable. There is a descending guitar solo towards the end that is utterly timeless in sound. The final bars seal the piano into your ears (again, such simple drumming but so perfectly matched that the rhythm drives the tune home), bringing the album, via one last neat variation, to a perfect close, coming to rest briefly in the same warm hum that can be heard for a split-second at the start of “Where You Go”, and that burns throughout the record.

You can download this excellent album for free, but i would urge you to contribute something. This music is worth your money… You can get it either through itunes or through these links:

http://www.noisetrade.com/altadore/golden-hills

http://altadore.bandcamp.com/

And for more about them:

http://www.myspace.com/altadore/friends

https://www.facebook.com/altadoremusic