Alaska in Winter
Dance Party in the Balkans
( Milan/Ryko, 2008 )
Unslushed because: I thought it might actually be Balkan dance music.
Factors not initally considered: Alaska in Winter is the nom d’indie of multi-instrumentalist Brandon Bethancourt. This album came out independently in 2007, got great reviews, and has now been picked up by Ryko. That annoying little shit from Beirut (the recording act, not the city), Zach Condon, makes instrumental contributions to seven tracks here. It sounds as though he’s singing the whole time, too, but no, that’s just Bethancourt regurgitating his muse.
On further review: This is a pristinely recorded, carefully thought-out album that combines the wandering-gypsy airs of Beirut with down-tempo electronica. You can count on lots of warbly harmonies, man-children in fur hats, and, I suppose, idiosyncratic—if by “idiosyncratic” you mean “frequent”—use of a vocoder. Maybe on a different day, in a different mood, I’d like it more. Clearly a lot of work went into it, and it might be all right in the background of a party I’d never be invited to: The electronic aspect keeps things buoyant where an act like Beirut would verge on the funereal. But instead all I can say is that I am so over the phony Eastern-European indie subgenre. What once felt fresh-faced and exotically emotive has become the aural equivalent of a junior year abroad in Prague.
And I’m sick of vocoders, too. If you can’t up the ante on “California Love,” I say don’t bother.