There’s something beautiful about a misleading album opener. On my first listen through Alpine’s new LP, Yuck, I was initially a bit unimpressed — “Come On” didn’t strike me as the beginning of a record that was going to knock my socks off. It’s certainly well written and executed with tight precision, but to date I think it lacks the punch that’s necessary to hook someone into the next nine tracks.
Then, suddenly: “Foolish.” It starts with two measures of rhythm guitar and vocal buildup before dropping into an irresistibly funky beat, and drives on with playful lyrics from singers Phoebe Baker and Lou James (“You brought too much / Too much metaphor / To the relationship / To what I see / To how I kiss / Yuck!”). You can’t help but dance along.
It’s almost musical gatekeeping. Yuck ranges from quietly introspective to triumphantly cinematic, and “Come On” seems like it’s there to weed out the people who are just looking for easy dance pop. That’s not to say that the album is obtuse, but intentional or not, the opener reveals up-front that just because Alpine are catchy doesn’t mean they’re shallow.
“Shot Fox” is the first track to show the band’s cloud-parting tendencies, with a sprawling, emotive chorus that declares, “When you’re gone / The world seems brighter / When your heart beats / Mine beats faster.” It seems to hint at a complex, love-hate relationship, and is propelled by heavy snares and swelling synths. “Up For Air” comes next, and might be the easiest cut to pigeonhole as R&B dance pop. But the smooth, seductive atmosphere is tempered by an underlying melancholy and hesitation, adding a layer of depth that makes it more than just a love song.
The album takes a breather with “Much More” and “Jellyfish,” but breaks out of its shell when “Damn Baby” explodes in a cacophony of horns and emphatically-belted vocals (“Yeah / I’m here / And I’ve been willing to take this leap / For a while now”). It’s the first time the lyrics seem truly upbeat and self-assured, and it feels like someone finally getting a win after years of frustration.
Alpine’s sound is certainly referential, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Australian six-piece has managed to frame tropes from R&B and pop in a new light, layering experimental instrumentation and lyrical ambiguity with deft hands. The result is an album that, while feeling familiar and easily danceable, is more thoughtful than it may appear. That relatively slow opener isn’t a reflection of the work as a whole, but it serves a purpose: Yuck is more than just bubblegum, and when you get to a radio-ready earworm you’ll know that you earned it.