Sic Alps- Napa Asylum(Drag City)


After a self-confessed ‘reflective’ period of two-and-a-half years following the release of the 2008 album U.S. EZ, Sic Alps – San Fran’s finest lo-fi garage collective – returned earlier this year with their third long-player. Dealing with themes such as insanity and schizophrenia, the aptly named Napa Asylum is just as ramshackle as previous efforts, but this time around we get the Sic Alps chaotic treatment en masse. With 22 songs crammed into a meagre 47 minutes (none of them hit the 4 minute mark; “Wasted At Church” is just 36 seconds long), Napa Asylum feels like an album of songs deliberately trimmed down, or maybe even a work in progress – fleeting demos and samples of songs as opposed to a final product. But no! This is the final product. No fuss. No frills. And with good reason; shorn of detail and length, it achieves everything you would hope for from a Sic Alps record.

With members from the likes of The Hospitals and 90s Slumberland band Henry’s Dress, Sic Alps follow in their very own fine tradition of noise rock on Napa Asylum. Overtly lo-fi, album opener “Jolly” strongly hints at what is to follow – incessant melody amidst the dreamy yet raucous noise of Mike Donovan’s discordant vocal, a simply strummed acoustic guitar, and a wonderfully languid rhythm section. Throughout the record you get the constant feeling of a finely honed mess, or rather (N.B. – I couldn’t veer myself away from the following horrid cliché) a beautiful disaster (!!). But it truly is just that – album highlights such as “Cement Surfboard”, “Zeppo Epp” and “Do You Want To Give $$?” leave the brazen impression of well-crafted melody, often left to pierce through competing layers of brilliantly barbed and neurotic noise (fuzzy vocals, scratched guitars, anomalous percussive clattering, et al). Although the album does perhaps predictably contain some ‘filler’, especially into its second half, most of the songs on Napa Asylum nevertheless leave the listener with a triumphant juxtaposition – wanting more (“just another minute please, Sicies?”), yet knowing it is inconceivable to imagine the songs any differently. They are as perfect as they could possibly be; to alter them in any way, be it through longer duration or enhanced production, would take away the charm and unadulterated, primal joy Sic Alps have administered here in this stripped- down/shaken-up collection. The brief, catatonic bursts of melody and copious catchy hooks we are treated to on the snippet-like songs of Napa Asylum impacted memorably on this listener, not despite but partly due to its brevity and rawness.

Sooo… an album full of tuneful tracks, untarnished and complimented by messy noise, little-to-no production and anarchic experiments – surely this is the American lo-fi dream?


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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.