Alto 45 101101

[Happy Capitalist; 2005]

Styles:  synth/indie/dream-pop
Others: The Magnetic Fields, Grandaddy

NME says of young Suffolk label Happy Capitalist: "(they) exemplify all the spirit and zest which occasionally prevails when the major corporations are momentarily distracted from their mission to wipe them (indie labels) all out for good." Judging from this quote and the tongue-in-cheek mission statement on the label's website to be "putting profits before musical integrity since 1999," good things should be expected from this homegrown bunch. The eleventh release is the owner's own Alto 45's first full-length 101101, which is incidentally one number away from the beginning of "I Love You" in binary.

The album begins with "Let's Go Out," a military drumbeat and deadpan vocals giving way to dreamy ones and squiggly synth tones recalling early Magnetic Fields. "The Plan" follows, a guitar-driven outline for taking over the world ("Step 1: You know you've got to go underground/ Live in a place you can't be found"), where theorizing 'til dawn is the catharsis for all the greatest of schemes. Most of the songs are a similar exercise in fantasy, as vocalist James Boyce sings about getting away with friends, getting drunk, and getting on with girls.

Few tracks are compelling as the first, like "Fell Down the Stairs," which tiredly recounts a drunken skateboard misstep, and "Leaving Suburbia," opening with a downplayed bass beat that could rock the house if Boyce and his two bandmates weren't poised to drown it periodically in downtrodden lyrics and a thrashy guitar bridge. I may have never heard a more despondent vocal turn than on this thoughtful number -- even on his most mournful songs, Mark Kozelek has sounded cheerier than this. Don't dwell on it though, skip on through to the next track, the more upbeat and melodic "Christian Song." It's just too bad the album alternates one for one, and I can't listen anymore after the next sad as hell tune.

Alto 45's aggressively DIY aesthetic sparkles on "Hospital Song," twinkling with bits of shoegazer nostalgia and synth-pop giddiness. The British press likens them to Graham Coxon, Belle & Sebastian, and the Delgados; but I don't see it. Recalling Grandaddy at their best and amateur college rock at their worst, the band revels in a sensibility that's forever aiming for the perfect pop. 101101 wants to be happy! Perhaps on their next outing, they'll inject some proof that making music isn't an entirely depressing business -- something I know they're well aware of.

1. Let's Go Out
2. The Plan
3. Fell Down Stairs
4. Sunburn
5. Look Who You Know
6. Leaving Suburbia
7. Christian Song
8. Moses Gunn
9. Hospital Song
10. Ain't Got Nothing
11. Sleep & TV