|Album Review: ALASKALASKA – The Dots|
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A simple reading of the news or glance at social media can be an overwhelming experience these days. We may be more connected than ever, but a quick look into our chaotic cultural climate can make us question our place in this unruly world. In uneasy times like these, art can provide refuge when it speaks truth to injustice and provides escapist entertainment. The band ALASKALASKA has offered a strong showing on both fronts with their debut album The Dots, out on Marathon Artists. The South London group has delivered an astounding batch of songs with genre-defying instrumentals and hard-hitting, deeply personal lyrics that highlight various elements of identity, from social media to the menstrual cycle. For those of us who crave engaging, honest music, The Dots is a fitting soundtrack for our times.
After the opening title track that establishes the group's impressively original sound comes the mesmerizing song "Bees." It's the most overtly political entry on the album and is made more so with a striking music video. Over a descending bass line from Fraser Rieley, vocalist Lucinda Duarte-Holman delivers poignant lyrics commenting on the pitfalls of our current consumer culture. At one moment, she writes, "Who's in charge here? Anybody's guess now / Where's the people and why are they all pointing at each other, where did they all learn to blame?" All the while the video features a compilation of outrageous and unsettling viral videos and other clips showcasing numerous societal warts. The barrage of shots is masterfully interspersed with footage of bees, providing an unrelenting reminder of the theme of consumers as drones, punctuated by the line in the hook, "It's a bees' hive, what's to understand?"
While "Bees" confronts identity politics on a global scale, Duarte-Holman takes things in a much more personal direction with one of the album's standout tracks "Moon." In it, she broaches her struggle to find identity within the framework of the menstrual cycle. She writes, "With all the space in space, how I feel so misplaced / it's over, I'm overcome, am I someone?" In addition to the powerfully personal lyrics, "Moon" stands out as a showcase of ALASKALASKA's unique sound. Drummer Gethin Jones features heavily throughout, providing an unstoppable groove while saxophonist Fraser Smith adds one of the song's most memorable elements with his angular horn lines.
Throughout the duration of The Dots, ALASKALASKA ventures into diverse stylistic territory in a way that makes the music fascinatingly difficult to categorize. Amid all the group's wandering styles on the LP is one of the most succinctly structured songs of the bunch, "Tough Love." It might be as close as the group gets to pop, as it borrows an aesthetic from 90s alternative music, particularly in the guitar-driven choruses from Calum Duncan. The track maintains the group's lyrical bite, though, as Duarte-Holman sings about the struggle to be vulnerable and creative in a society that emphasizes tough love. She writes, "Hard to communicate my emotions / hard to communicate anything new / hard to communicate but I won't give up / well, good luck if you've had enough of tough love." The music world is full of songs about being true to oneself and yet "Tough Love" still stands out. The lyrics in the hook emphasize the point saliently with a call to action: "Say what you want / sing along to our song / bring everyone / get on up, get on down."
Most of the songs on The Dots feature a fiery energy that matches the urgency of the group's social commentary, but there are a few moments where they slow things down. The first comes on the dreamy track "Arrows," which features surprisingly processed vocals and an unhurried three feel. A little later comes the sensual, bluesy track "Sweat" where Duarte-Holman opens with gentle vocal delivery as she sings the line, "I like you best when your body rests between my legs." The words set the tone of the remainder of the track that maintains its restrained, quiet approach to a love song.
Continuing the theme of relationships is the track "Monster," which offers another example of the band speaking unapologetic truths in the face of adversity. Although Duarte-Holman's lyrics read like a letter to troubled lover, they could almost be interpreted as being directed toward the destructive expectations of our warped society. Both readings are equally impactful in the chorus when she sings, "I don't wanna be somebody else / or this monster you have made me out to be / but I don't really feel like bein' myself when you keep on draining all the best from me." Regardless of the interpretation, songs like "Monster" showcase ALASKALASKA's provocative writing that cuts right to the core of our collective soul.
The set closes with the ambient, atmospheric tune "Skin," in which Duarte-Holman debriefs with the audience after the emotional outpouring on the LP. Over dark, oscillating synth notes, she writes, "Will you still love me, will you think of me like you did before? Are you in? / now you've been through my skin." The combination of ALASKALASKA's spot-on social commentary on The Dots with their absorbing musical sensibilities and stellar musicianship make the album an unquestioned triumph. For anyone who gives a deep dive into this astounding project, it's easy to answer Duarte-Holman's question on "Skin" with a resounding, 'yes, we're in.'
Buy or stream The Dots here.