What got my attention focused on Sic Alps was the cover they did of Throbbing Gristle’s “United.” Not an easy task for a band with, say, a more ordered sound, but a perfect fit for Sic Alps’ self-wounded rock DNA. From San Francisco, the Alps calls itself a garage-rock band, but I hear something else. They come off more like the groups I played in as a teen. These were nascent rock bands that were trying to learn songs recorded by the popular rock acts of the day on instruments we had little mastery of.
By design, Sic Alps is loud and messy and a tad deconstructive with their slightly out-of-tune instruments, pained vocals, and charisma-on-loan via amplifier settings. How often does Sic Alps succeed in reaching its musical vision? “Sometimes,” singer/guitarist Mike Donovan says by phone from North Hollywood. “Sometimes,” he laughs. “We’re always trying to find the right way to do a song,” he says.
Sic Alps is equal parts acquisitive and inventive. On a different day, “Cement Surfboard” could have been Brian Wilson’s; “St. Peter Writes His Book” uses paint-by-numbers Creedence Clearwater Revival chord progressions. Other times, Donovan says he tries to not over-think it. “Once, I woke up from a dream, and I improvised guitar and vocals from beginning to end. Then I went back to bed.” Drums and bass got added a year later, and the song became “Nathan Livingston Maddox” on Napa Asylum. In their own reckless manner, Sic Alps makes dark comedy of rock and roll. Few of the band’s records (and they have released many during their decade of existence) sound alike. But this notion of lo-fi proto-punk is a hard road on which to maintain a career in pop music. Fads come and fads go, and after, what follows? Lucidity, at the risk of abandoning one’s fan base?
Thee Oh Sees also perform
Sic Alps: Monday, September 10, Bar Pink, 619-564-7194, 9 p.m. $6.