REVIEW: ALTA, “Sincere”

Confidence is a curious thing. Some days you might feel a quiet self-assurance, other days you are brash and bold to a fault, and others still your reservoir of certainty is completely drained. But sometimes – probably a rare occasion – you might wake up, put your clothes on, leave the house; all the while feeling a static buzz in the air around you. Suddenly you catch your reflection in a shop or car window. You meet your own eye with a knowing glint. It’s not vanity, it’s a corner of your mouth curling up into a smirk. It’s a complete unlearning of the word ‘hesitation’, even if only for a second. The world is yours. One can only suppose this is the shining moment that ALTA inhabit constantly. Their second EP Sincere does not fumble, it does not flounder, it does not falter. It is pure perseverance, running breathlessly to the edge of the world, constantly breaking new ground.

ALTA’s first release in 2015, Awake For Days, undeniably positioned them for excellence. The response – HypeMachine charting, over a million SoundCloud and Spotify plays, critical acclaim, and now a signing to record label Soothsayer – indeed appears to have injected the Melbourne duo with an unshakeable sense of confidence. To their credit, this never translated to ham-handedness or egotism; just restrained innovation.

Boundaries are pushed, broken, and revisited with a nostalgic tone. Lead single Plans, like the other songs on the release, is highly syncopated, driven by tuned percussion with nods to world music. It weaves in and out of various musical echelons, refusing to sit still for too long but maintaining a coolly calculated focus with a steely eye. Vocalist Hannah Lesser has a delicate yet sharply compelling timbre not unlike Little Dragons’ Yukimi Nagano, while producer Julius Dowson flirts with techniques favoured by those such as SBTRKT – but the finished product sounds nothing like either influence. Instead, Sincere is a fresh, unique development of ALTA’s sound, poised constantly and deliberately on a knife’s edge. Closing track Same positions itself as the perfect bookend to Plans, an extension of Dowson’s enlightened production methods.

Unbelievable and Company dip their toes into RnB and downbeat chilltronica respectively, proving ALTA are unafraid of inter-decade experimentation. Simply put, this EP is not the creation of a pair of music snobs. With layered, textured synth sounds borrowed from hallmarks of the 90s and 00s – all the way up to today’s innovative bedroom producers – Unbelievable is a breakup jam that sonically feels ready to jump straight back into bed for makeup sex. Where Company is understated and repetitive despite its trap/jungle influences, Unbelievable is a layered, textured slow burner.

All of Sincere feels like it belongs on a go-to playlist for an inhumanly early morning, when the hedonistic chaos of the night is less visceral but still very much present. Mess is the epitome of this, surely designed and crafted specifically for worn-out souls at witching hour with its soulful tumble towards building euphoria. And like the rest of the tracks on this EP, there’s an emphasis on Mess truly being a product of the sum of its parts. Every noise created is as essential to the songs’ narrative and emotional positioning as Lesser’s lead vocals, treated with utmost care and respect, polished like a prized trophy.

Image: Mushroom Promotions