“Alaska doesn’t pretend that it’s anything more than an unbelievably catchy and fun record.” -EBEric Brown
out of 10
When I say “guitar-driven instrumental rock,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? These days it’s usually something akin to Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, or even more ambient-minded groups like This Will Destroy You. You know what I’m talking about. Quiet, noodly guitar-riff enhanced by a ton of delay.
Slow introduction of second guitar along with bass and drums. Tension mounts, distortion becomes more intense. Climactic, repeated guitar lines as the song reaches its triumphant crescendo. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a pretty common formula these days. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you have to admit, it’s a bit overdone.
Luckily, Lynchburg, Virginia’s three-piece instrumental act Alaska has pretty much nothing in common with the aforementioned groups beyond a proclivity for mesmerizing guitar riffs and a general distaste for lyrics. Rather, their music has a decidedly surf-rock edge, featuring tawngy guitars and a liberal heaping of reverb. Decidedly poppy, and surprisingly infectious, Alaska a breath of fresh air for instrumental rock.
It also avoids another problem that many instrumental bands can so easily fall into: none of the songs are overlong. It’s one thing when Godspeed! You Black Emperor releases an album full of 25 minute songs, but when every knock-off group in the world starts to abandon the whole “brevity” thing, it’s a bit frustrating to listen to. Alaska’s songs stick firmly into the “under six minute” category, which is refreshing for fans of instrumental rock that can’t devote half of their day to a single record.
I know it may not be fair to compare Alaska to more traditional post-rock bands out there. Their sounds are honestly pretty different, but with instrumental music so firmly entrenched in the sounds pioneered by Explosions in the Sky, it’s worth distinguishing them from the pack.
And distinguished they are. Song like “Elephant,” “Our Kind of Weather,” and “Denali” blend together elements of pop, surf-rock, and the more experimental bands mentioned above to create a unique experience. The songs are complex in their arrangements, yet effortlessly simple to listen to.
Their self-titled debut isn’t an attempt to tell a story, its titles aren’t thoughtless allusions to the works of Joyce, and it isn’t trying to be the next big thing. Alaska doesn’t pretend that it’s anything more than an unbelievably catchy and fun record. For that, I applaud them.