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Altopalo - frozenthere Music Album Reviews

The New York quartet’s scant and downtempo album deftly uses stillness as a way to pull listeners deeper into the music.

To analyze Altopalo is to decipher a transmission from a faraway planet. The bass rattles and drops at a moment’s notice. Faint guitar chords clatter in the distance. The vocals are often garbled and unclear, tucked behind a layer of moody synths and staggered electronic drums. The band uses stillness to its advantage, slowly unpacking it as a way to pull listeners deeper into the music. The sounds are barely there at certain points, and you have to lean in a little closer to fully absorb its vibration.

That’s most evident on the title track of Altopalo’s new album, frozenthere: Amid deafening bass, the words of lead vocalist Rahm Silverglade are pitched higher and played in reverse; when coupled with a loop of haunting guitar chords, the song feels equally magnetic and disorienting. Then there’s “Pulp,” a visceral meditation near album’s end. Here, Silverglade pivots between low-pitched groaning and primal squealing, both of which convey the singer’s gut-wrenching torment. One can almost feel his pain, and see him writhing through the suffocating darkness.

frozenthere is a sharp sonic turn from Altopalo’s previous project, 2015’s noneofuscared, which skewed closer to funk and indie rock. Along with Silverglade, who’s released solo material on Terrible Records, Altopalo features guitarist Mike Haldeman (a member of Moses Sumney’s band), bassist Jesse Bielenberg, and drummer Dillon Treacy. Though noneofuscared was louder and more direct, songs like “loafly” and “goodnight (boom)” employed a mix of rock and ambient, and foreshadowed the band’s creative approach for this LP. frozenthere is scant and downtempo, drawing direct lines to the early work of experimental vocalist/producer James Blake and the remote serenity of Frank Ocean’s Endless.

Much like Blake, Silverglade uses his voice as an addendum to the music, sometimes filtering it to the background. Atmosphere is key here; the aura is more important than the words being spoken. Thematically, the album explores what it means to be human in a world dependent on technology, and on “Terra,” Silverglade seems to delve into the feelings of inferiority that social media can cause. “Scroll down to the picture lost in a feed,” he mutters. “Scroll down, countin’ thumbs, still dreamin’ of the hearts you hold.” The lyrics could have a double meaning in this instance; maybe the thumbs and hearts are digitized signs of approval. Then there’s “Blur,” a love letter to coveted photos: “I’m not alone when you’re so pocket-sized … frozen arms and legs can’t wrap me up at night.”

Throughout the album, the band captures the desperation of modern times, wagging the finger at cell phone addiction while urging listeners to find peace beyond the cascade of likes and retweets. Ultimately, frozenthere fulfills its premise as a rich suite of weightless compositions that float gently through your speakers. It’s a headphones record best consumed in the dead of night or just before dawn, right as the sky fades to a majestic blue, and life begins to rise from its slumber. The results are rewarding: You have to be patient and let it happen.

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