April 02, 2004

Alpha "Stargazing"

On first listen, Stargazing sent me straight back to 1997. Remember that year? The whole jazz-noir electronica thing was just starting to blossum (or die out, depending on who you talk to) and dark bands like Portishead had the music world all steamy and sultry and intrigued. Spiked into these postmodern sounds was a hint of the past--mainly jazz--and the results were usually lovely and often breathtaking. Listening to Stargazing, it's not surprising to learn that Alpha came to life back then. Not that the music on Stargazing is at all dated; if anything, Alpha's sound is finally in its time, and they play around with a sound that's neither electronica nor jazz noir.

Stargazing is a wonderful showcase for mellow instrumentals, sultry singing and an atmosphere that's pure thunderstorm at midnight. The blending of lounge and electronica is what Alpha does best, mixing the best of both worlds and creating a lusty vibe. When Corin Dingley opens her mouth, it's impossible not to fall in love immediately with Alpha. Her voice--a nice blend of ethereal stretching and torch-song croon--is immediately appealing. Songs like "Silver Light," "Blue Autumn" and "Once Round Town" are gentle and touching in a way that can only be described as blissful. Mixed with the most basic jazz instrumentation, Dingley has redefined the whole lounge singer experience. Don't wite off Andy Jenks, though; his singing, on songs like "Lipstick From The Asylum" and "Saturn in Rain" is equally lovely, but it's not the main attraction.

When it appeared overseas last year, Stargazing won over critics--the same critics who normally would have lambasted this record for sounding too 'retro.' This version of the record rearranges the tracklisting and adds a bonus track from 1997, "Horeshit." Doesn't matter, really, because Stargazing is just a really great record, regardless of the year it was released. If you like your music dark, pretty and romantic, then turn off the lights and try a little Stargazing.

--Joseph Kyle

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