Frontman Mike Donovan discusses the lo-fi DIY recording and music-making process of Sic Alps, set to release their fourth full-length album.
Fronted by San Francisco lo-fi vet Mike Donovan, Sic Alps is one of the leanest, most out-there psych-garage acts working today. Their songwriting demonstrates remarkable balance, marrying hiss, distortion, and sunny washes of reverb with a deep understanding of pop composition. Donovan and company have long favored a barebones, DIY method—recording their songs piecemeal on an eight-track, usually just with one mic—that is rudimentary in its means but complex in its execution. This is no doubt the lo-fi challenge: the track-by-track approach to songwriting is itself somewhat flexible, but also requires a careful compositional ear in assembling “finished” products. It’s hard to pin down the music’s exact genealogy, but it clearly reflects the influence of nineties lo-fi—recalling, at moments, GBV in their early, scuzzed out bedroom glory, psychedelic rock, and ’60s garage, all of which harmonize through the formal constraints of the pop song.
Sic Alps will release their fourth full-length release on Drag City Records in early September. They’ve displayed a remarkable capacity for evolution over the last six years and four LPs, and their upcoming self-titled album represents their most innovative move yet. It’s softer, slower, and highly meditative—on the whole, a much more polished record than the band has previously put forth. Sic Alps was recorded in studio, and the change in operating practice is apparent from the very first cut off the album, “Glyphs,” which features a string section. But moving in the direction of higher fidelity has not compromised the band’s distinctive “no-fi” brand, and the record’s mellower constitution is not so much an abandonment of its familiar working method as a new perspective on it—a retrofitting that has left their sound tighter and more defined than ever before.
The group has seen a slew of personnel since its inception, and on Donovan’s account, Sic Alps evolved as an honest, natural reflection of its current line-up’s priorities and sensibilities. I recently spoke with Donovan over the phone—he’s not the most technologically inclined, and our conversation was a luxury of his having coincidentally purchased a burner—about the band’s musical history, development, and the significance of this latest record in that trajectory.
Filmmaker Rick Alverson on his confrontational and remarkable new film The Comedy.
The Comedy, Rick Alverson’s third feature, delights in subverting expectations. It’s hardly a work of traditional comedy, and viewers unfamiliar with Alverson’s nontraditional directorial style—and furthermore, the absurd performative leanings of its leading man, Tim Heidecker—may find the film rough going. The movie opens with a Bacchanalia: in the aftermath of a Williamsburg loft party, Swanson (Heidecker) and his friends disrobe and grind on one another in a slow motion, booze-fueled delirium. The scene is abundant with painful detail: full-frontal nudity, sweaty gyrations, and tumescent stomachs in heavy swing. This unpleasant proximity is sustained for the duration of the film; The Comedy suspends the audience at an uncomfortable remove from Swanson, and we’re often left too emotionally distant to penetrate his repugnant public exterior, but too close to dismiss him entirely.
RS The Comedy certainly isn’t a comedy in the proper sense, and I wondered what your intentions were as far the genre of this film was concerned at the outset—did you want to go in a particular stylistic direction, and what are the stakes of calling this movie “a comedy”?
RA [It was] sort of in keeping with the general desire to create an imbalance or destabilization in the thing from the foundation up, to some degree. In my previous movies, I tried to do that in a quieter way by utilizing stereotypes and then working against them—making the attributes muddy.