Review Summary: Screw “fine”. Everything is excellent.
The tag “experimental” that’s tacked onto most of the Internet sites representing Nevada post-hardcore kids Alaska is initially quite misleading. Opening their debut full-length, Everything is Fine
, is a set of math grooves and drifting, incomprehensible vocals on “Shot Down the Moon”, which initiates almost thirty minutes of more math grooves and drifting, incomprehensible vocals. Plus, it’s not like the sound is at all original either. First impressions of Alaska turn straight to comparisons towards so very many post-hardcore groups you can find around any corner on Bandcamp: Moving Mountains and Native are a few of the slightly bigger names I would think of. And then, the record isn’t even long. It doesn’t even hit thirty minutes. For all its spacey little post-rock detours and instrumental ditties, Everything is Fine
goes by with speed.
So, you’re probably asking what it is exactly that makes this such an excellent record. Well, the answer encompasses a little bit of all the things I seemed to have been criticising in that first paragraph. First of all, there’s a lot here. And I mean, a lot
. For thirty minutes, Alaska packs a legion of endlessly shifting rhythmic grooves that drift in and out, morph, or drop straight off in a positively confusing, lost and, mathematically challenging way, leaving even quicker than they came. Elliot Rivera’s cathartic vocal performance all the while soars over every unclearly separate bar like a bird over an ever-changing landscape. There’s so much constantly happening that one could easily miss what’s actually going on in all of these songs in the greater scheme of things.
The band lives up to the experimental description less with instrumental experimentation as much as with structural and dynamic innovation: where “Sundialing” is a straightforward build to a hard-hitting climax, a track like “Pt. I (the sun is gone)” proves unpredictable in that it presses with urgency only to lead into the slower “Pt. II (before it shines)” and allow it to finish what the prior track started. Likewise, “Even Dirt Finds Its Way Home” is brilliantly uninhibited in its more traditional punk beat which underlies a compressing and decompressing instrumentation until finally bursting in an uplifting, vocal-led outro. Every track is presented like the Sydney Opera House in that it is less a straight escalation towards a point as much as it is a wavy, multifaceted piece which, in retrospect, is completely necessary in all its many aspects. They bring to mind Pianos Become the Teeth with their unorthodox but natural song structures, which often avoid letting up across the course of the record and instead flow forward with an innate sense of direction.
With that, Everything is Fine
becomes so much more than a slapping-together of challenging rhythms, guitar-effects arpeggios and choruses-less vocals. It’s a highly ambitious venture which is perhaps denser than any recent listen in what is becoming an increasingly digestible subgenre, and needs neither a revolutionary sound nor a long runtime to accomplish this. Despite its unrestrained structural changing, there’s most definitely something happening on every song that does not become apparent until you lose yourself within the music and learn the path yourself. Until it is completely absorbed, Everything is Fine
is without meaning, but like the frozen Alaska winter, the album takes a bit of thawing to reveal its beautiful craftsmanship.