Maybe I’ve been listening to too much bedroom electro these days, or maybe it’s all that’s released anymore. You know the kind: dude or gal wears cool sneakers, has a MIDI controller or maybe a synth modulator, sits on his/her Macbook sampling programmed drums and software synths and creates various sounds until something resembling a song emerges. Now this isn’t always a bad thing. Independent recording is often unfettered and honestly inspired. But it’s hard not to think that this particular sound is becoming a dime a dozen. Honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it anymore. Half of the problem is that the instrumentation is not produced by instruments, but by midi controllers synthetically conveying quasi-instrumental sounds. And I can only think of so many synonyms for “synth line” and “driving bass.”
So: Alaska In Winter, which began as the project of Brandon Bethancourt, who fled the warmth of New Mexico to a remote Alaskan cabin to escape the trappings of everyday life. Sounds familiar, very familiar. The product of this time resulted in Dance Party In The Balkans. But this is the sophomore release and mountainous terrain and frigid weather are no longer our soundscape; instead, Holiday soundtracks the Berlin haus-muzik scene. Yet, this album feels like an odd fusion of the two: the drive of German-electro and the sunless depression of Alaska. Opening with the slight strumming of “We Are Blind & Riding the Merry-Go-Round”, the murky vocals wail over drab melodies, accurately setting the precedent for the album’s tone. Soon, the down-tempo opener fades and in comes the album’s insistent lead-single and best track “Berlin”.
In the majority of cases, Bethancourt’s vocals spout out anguish-ridden lyrics that are half-inane/half-maudlin: “my speed boat goes faster than yours”, “she’s dying in my arms”. The music is too often depressing without being beautiful and too often slow without a direction. Sure, “Highlander Pt.1” is a lovely contemplation of failed love and Kyra LaMariana’s voice (who, along with Naila Dixon have replaced Heather Trost as the female voice of Alaska In Winter for this record) adds a captivating intimacy, but the tempo soon picks up and all evocation is lost. It’s as if you’re hearing an acoustic Sigur Ros show and suddenly Tom Waits decides to take the second verse. Holiday truly reaches its nadir during the three-part “Streetgang” which drags along despondently boasting an excruciatingly slow drum line complimented by an onerous bass. Even the cameos from Zach Condon of Beirut can’t save this one.
Now, bedroom electro is a genre that is well and good. It bridges the gap between the precocious artist who can’t afford real studio time and the subpar one who can. But it necessarily means a singular focus which too often means a singular sound and musicianship that is sterile and automated. When timing is so perfected that it feels predictable, it’s time to add some viscera or spontaneity in the mix. Also, it doesn’t help that Holiday is as uplifting as a coronary heart disease.