Wednesday, May 8, 2002

In The Afternoon

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of Chicago quartet L’altra. As with the album title itself, impermanent moods and emotional abstractions shift and refract while the sun’s rays focus, extend and wane over the course of a day. If that sounds precious, it’s not meant to be; rather, the 10 numbers comprising L’altra’s second full-length have a precious — as in gemlike — quality that’s also tantalizing and fleeting, like the aforementioned timepiece’s grains. Subtlety, not stridency.

The sound will be immediately warming to fans of Low’s downcast quietcore, the American Analog Set’s droney dreampop and the Rachel’s’ gentle minisymphonies. The heartbeat throb, tingly guitars and jovial horns of “Black Arrow” wrap dutifully around Lindsay Anderson’s girlish, throaty warble; you can well imagine indie guys ’n’ gals falling in love, breaking up, and falling in love all over again during the song’s six minutes. In an alternate universe where “indie rock” doesn’t exist, however, L’altra might be classified as New Age, and not in a pejorative sense either. Minus the spidery, exquisite vocal harmonies of Anderson and Joseph Costa, “Broken Mouths,” with its snow-is-falling piano motif and reassuring cello murmurs, would be a modern-day chamber-pop standard. The slowly but buoyantly anthemic “Afternoon Sun” sounds both ancient and familiar, an antediluvian, countryish waltz for right-proper gentlemen and their oh-so-demure ladies.

In short, L’altra’s resonance doesn’t depend on identification with a particular genre or scene, but upon an appreciation of melodic pop that swings between poles of minimalist delicacy and cinematic lushness. That, no matter the artistic source or intended audience, will always be timeless.

E-mail Fred Mills at


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