Albany, NY based Alta Mira's eponymous debut has been over two years in the making and gives off every impression of being a labor of love. The album flows more smoothly than expected, given the wide range of moods it covers. The time and effort put into this album shows not just in the well put together package of songs, but also in the comfort the band clearly feels with the material. There is a confidence in these songs not usually found on a debut album.
According to the band, the environment of Barefoot Studios, where the album was recorded, was highly influential on the finished product. Barefoot Studios is a large studio space housed in a former mental hospital. Bassist August Sagehorn likened the place to Hell in an interview with the Albany Daily Gazette. But the dark mood that atmosphere must have inspired does not completely permeate the album. It is difficult to pin down a specific emotional tone for the album as a whole; indeed it is sometimes difficult to pin down the emotional tone of individual tracks. Many of the songs go through several tempo changes while vocalist Joe Michon-Huneau effortlessly brings the audience along for the ride.
Alta Mira has already been compared to a multitude of different musical acts, ranging from Radiohead to the Beatles. All of these influences are clear on the album, and with so many influences pulling the band in so many directions, it would be tempting to classify Alta Mira as an album with too many personalities. But that would not be fair. The band's influences are clearly stamped on their sound, but they have done something unique with all of it, and created something new.
While Michon-Huneau's vocals are quite flashy and seem to overshadow much of the album, a close listen shows Sagehorn's bass to be more of a driving force. Sagehorn steers the songs seamlessly into one another, allowing Michon-Huneau to dazzle us with his not inconsiderable talent. Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than in “Sinker/Or” with Sagehorn's modest, yet powerful instrument gently steering the song.
In fact, August Sagehorn dominates the album enough that it is sometimes to the detriment of his brother, Hunter, the band’s lead guitarist. The only tracks of the album in which Hunter manages to outshine his brother is the excellent “Din & Drone” and “Harder They Fall” which manage to feature the guitar playing above the competing efforts of singer and bassist. Underneath the overpowering talents of Michon-Huneau and his brother August, Hunter Sagehorn does display a promising ability, and one hopes that further releases from this band will allow him greater opportunity to shine. But on this disc, he is underwhelming, or at least seems that way in comparison to his bandmates.
Drummer Tommy Krebs, while also playing second to Sagehorn's bass and the vocals, holds his own. Unfortunately, he never has a moment to truly shine, though he comes close in the prog-rock style “Harder They Fall,” a track that brings the Mars Volta to mind. Krebs opens the track with some deft work, though it quickly takes a backseat to the Sagehorn brothers’ intricate playing.
Though many bands debut with impressive work, it is rare for a first album to feature quality of this caliber. Alta Mira has a sense of themselves and their own sound that might easily be mistaken for maturity. It isn't quite right to label it thus, as this group clearly has a great deal of growing to accomplish. But they do seem to have an almost uncanny sense of their own talents and limits. The group rarely treads in areas that are beyond them, and play their material with an ease that suggests an uncommon level of natural talent. That alone makes Alta Mira one of the more exciting bands to debut this year.
1. Tambourine (4:05)
2. Slumberjack (4:04)
3. Sinker/Or (3:41)
4. Din and Drone (4:06)
5. The End of My (4:53)
6. Interlude (1:40)
7. To Clear the Moon (4:38)
8. Bug Light (5:36)
9. Harder They Fall (4:23)
10. Tantrum (5:35)
11. Mother, Child (3:22)
12. IJWYTKTIOAEISU (4:51)