A decade ago, Alpha was just another beat klatch with a girl singer and a penchant for moody, vaguely hip-hop songs, residing right alongside the now-forgotten likes of Lamb, Whale, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba, etc., etc. Then for 10 years the duo (Corin Dingley and Wendy Stubbs) made instrumental records and remixes, which might explain why Alpha 2.0 is largely unchanged. Stubbs' vocals are still soulful without being too little-girl-lost or diva-derivative, and Dingley's sense of sound is more organic and all-embracing than most sample-based bands of their ilk would suggest. The difference these days, however, is what once sounded like overachieving, accomplished trip-hop also-rans now sounds like the work of an accomplished band and singer, not a beatmaker and a featured chanteuse.
Stubbs' voice has that shaky Billie Holiday blues quality to balance her occasional lapse into Sneaker Pimps whisper-coo, and it rises above that even as it indulges the lilting piano balladry of the beat-less opener "Stargazing" and the billowing, building "Burn Me Again." She sings "I can't change what I've done/ 'It's luck! It's fate': I just don't go there," over the spare piano of "Stumbled." By the next song, she's channeling Tori Amos and Shirley Bassey so much that her voice busts through the song and out of the speakers. And by the closing "A Little Poison," she's like a female Tim Buckley. As a result, The Sky is Mine has more in common with, say, an Imogen Heap or Corrine Bailey Rae immersed in Pink Floyd expanse (check out the Dark Side/"Home" homage of "For The Wages") and free-range rhythms (think Talk Talk's Laughing Stock) than it does the meandering atmospherics of Air or the more recent housie leanings of Massive Attack or Kruder & Dorfmeister. A bonus disc of extra tracks and remixes actually kind of pulls the Alpha. story back into the realm of more conventional post-trip-hop beat-making. But it's Dingley and Stubbs fragile anthems that hit deeper than any beat.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].