Alamo Race Track
March 23, 2015
In a few days they are releasing their latest record, "Hawks". Again, the anticipation for this album is high and the first praise from fans and press alike is heard. Could Alamo Race Track finally be taking that last step towards artistic fulfillment?
The album opens very strong with Young Spruce and Wires which is grounded by its drums that seem to lead a life of their own. Mulder sings over this accompanied by a somewhat uncomfortable arrangement of instruments that works remarkably well. Uncomfort doesn't lead to discomfort, instead it leads to harmony and creates a dynamic indie-sound that slowly builds up. The constant tension keeps you engaged and intrigued and it feels like different strands of a story that slowly find their way together.
The album follows with the somewhat dichotomous It's Bad Luck, which at the same time is quite gloomy and yet has a strange uplifting quality to it. It has a certain conceptual nature that never grows out of its bounds. It makes the song interesting but not necessarily one of the album's most memorable moments. Circling Over The Cold Bones creates images of vultures looking down on whatever they can scavange but the song itself doesn't give out that feel at all. The vocal choices however do create an image of people singing down from a distance. (Personally, I imagine a circle of people singing the lyrics where ultimately the vocals collide in the middle and fall down). Much like the previous song, it is interesting but not necessarily memorable.
Next up is the quirky lead single Everybody Let's Go which works really well on the radio. I heard it while driving and it immediately caught my attention. I was wondering: "Who is this? I really like this." And while the song was playing I started wondering if this could be Alamo Race Track. And low and behold, it was them. To me it shows their ability to venture to the edge of quirky indie music and accessible radio songs. It's not typical for what you hear on the radio but everytime you hear the song it convinces you more and more. It has something unique to it and that's the exact word to describe Alamo Race Track with; unique. Because there isn't really another band that does the same thing the way they do it. And the single is a perfect example of it.
All I've Got From This Trip Is Another Winter came across a little weird to me the first time I listened to it. The nasal quality of the vocals, the clash of sounds and the way it is mixed didn't quite feel right. But once I understood the topical nature of the song and opened up to it, the song started to grow on me. I don't think this song will ever entirely convince me but it has a certain conceptual quality or commentary nature to it that seems to unfold more and more once you hear it again. Sometimes Alamo Race Track should be referred to as Awkward Race Track, like on Safe House. I don't mean this as a negative, quite the opposite. Because of their unique approach, Alamo Race Track manages to utilize a certain feeling of awkwardness in their music. And in this song a somewhat surreal or awkward experience is pictured and that feeling represents in the feel of the song. To me, Safe House is actually one of the most interesting songs on this record.
The band reaches great heights on The Trail which is a perfect title for this song as it seems to represent a certain journey or a path that is littered with obstacles and hardships but ultimately leads somewhere. I took it as a metaphor for how we all walk our own path in life but inevitable our paths will intersect and sometimes we end up in the same place. If you listen to the music (as most of the track centers around its arrangement on not the sparse vocals) you can hear how the music veers off and comes back in and intertwines and then veers off again. Someone please make a suitable animation to this track, because that would be perfect!
All Engines starts with thunderous percussion and sharp vocals and leads into one of the more memorable tracks on "Hawks". The song isn't necessarily driven by its lyrical content but by the clash of sounds and the driving beat. Risers has a classic guitar melody and more of a lower-fi approach. The introspective nature and intimate focus on the vocals brings the song very close to the listener and also makes it a typical ART song. Title song Hawks is somewhat of a storytelling march, which you don't hear too often these days. Inspirations from the far east are combined with more traditional arrangements and the end product is the most impressive song on the record. It's tight, it's unexpected, it's eclectic and it completely works.
On Erase The Wires the vocals start out nearly as spoken word, like Leonard Cohen sometimes does. Alamo Race Track shows they master the art of expressing themselves in this manner perfectly because its intense and reaches right inside you. The almost echoing, haunting progression of the song adds layers and the guitar matches the intensity and dynamic of the song perfectly. One of the strongest tracks on the album. Closer We Should Never Have Camped Here ends the record in a similarly strong fashion. The song almost starts as a sort of announcement until it develops itself into a more mysterious indie anthem with an epic ending.
"Hawks" isn't quite the step forward I had hoped for but it has moments that shine very brightly. The band still has that sort of uncomfortable familiarity around it but in its own way it works for them. Alamo Race Track is unique and "Hawks" is a unique album that definitely shows versatility, maturity and creativity. The songs, however, aren't always very accessible and commercial success (with exception of the lead single) may be hard to accomplish. The fans of this band will get what they expect, something deep and unique and mysterious that allows you to go on a quest, to become sort of an explorer and discover new things every time you listen to the record. Throughout the review I used the words interesting and memorable a lot. The record is incredibly interesting for the reasons I just described, it challenges you and you keep discovering new things along the way but it isn't necessarily memorable in the way that it wows you or knocks you off your feet. While I really like the uniqueness of this band I had still hoped for the musical adventures to walk along the edges a little more, to cling to the boundaries of that unique sound and a certain accessibility. Alamo Race track succeeds on that with the opener, the lead single and the title track and offers gems like The Trail and Erase The Wires which culminates in something artistically unique.