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Beyond its facade as the fountainhead of American culture's glitz and glamour, Los Angeles has always had equally, if not often more alluring underbelly. Skid row squalor, gang wars, excesses of all varieties, and the stench of vanity gone awry permeate the city, poised to overtake the shimmering mirage of Hollywood idealism. Frank Alpine's eponymous debut for Wierd Records is LA noir at its finest: a frenzy of claustrophobic, danceable dread that skirts the line between outer-directed nihilistic aggression and fragrant introversion. Nocturnal synthesizers, isolated, frenetic, and monotonous, plot a destination either to somewhere new and uncertain, or perhaps to nowhere at all.
Frank Alpine is the alias of Rich Moreno, a veteran of LA's punk and darkened indie underground scenes, as well as a former member of New Collapse and The Boy Scouts of Annihilation. Alpine uses only consumer Casio synths to create a sound that's so thick and so harsh at times, to call it lo-fi would be to suggest something far weaker than the sounds themselves express. And while the atmosphere and gritty electronics might hearken to certain strains of industrial music or power electronics, the decided pep of the songs, and their almost blues-like simplicity situate Alpine's music much more squarely in the realms of punk and even old-fashioned rock and roll. Whether "No Exit" intends to reference Sartre's existential drama is irrelevant; the mood conjured is apropos of a post-death limbo. The album's second track, "Heart is Grey" finds Alpine crying out the song's title ad infinatum, as if to take the tired tropes of mope rock and give them new life as the ritualistic refrain of a headbanging electropunk dirge. And the wordless, relentlessly menacing "Through Your Window" invites one to nervously contemplate the voyeurism suggested by the song's title. What's being seen, and by whom? Fascinating, yet remarkably uncomplicated tricks such as these carry Frank Alpine's brand of minimal electronics to areas both cerebral and viscerally primal.
While many contemporary electronic artists' sound hints, however heavily or slightly, towards a European sensibility, Frank Alpine lives more in the realm of David Lynch's disturbed Americana, or the sinister aggression of No Wave. Somewhere between the warped intensity of the former and the acidic straightforwardness of the latter, Alpine has carved out his distinctive space: an eccentric loner squealing from inside the decay, making noise with a pulse that's paranoid and mechanical, yet unmistakably human.
1. No Exit
2. Heart is Grey
3. Painted Eyes
4. Paper Thin Walls*
5. Night Sky
6. Dark Places
7. Through Your Window
8. My Feelings
*CD-only bonus tracks.
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