Peripheral Vision – Alpha Mule (reviewed by Sarah Ryan)

AM+cover+sm+type.jpgWith harmonies reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkle and imagery reflective of a whiskey-fuelled fairy-tale, Alpha Mules’ ‘Peripheral Vision’ boasts an array of original and Tuscon-tuned tracks. Taking inspiration from the music of the American south and American southwest, Alpha Mule blend several genres together in this album – bluegrass, country, rock and folk to name but a few.

Opening the album with the remote calls of a train, Corpus Christi is a song which lends itself to the solitude, seclusion and heat of the Sonoran Desert. Cutting into the foreground with sharp subtlety, the banjo’s allegretto tempo effortlessly compliments Joe Forkan’s dulcet vocals. By having a highly open melodic sequence, the instrumentation is allowed, if you will, to ‘‘run free’’ in this track: the closing phrases of Corpus Christi, wherein the slide guitar is partnered with Eric Stoner’s banjo, personify a feeling of space, distance, and loneliness, while the cyclical nature of the song ultimately helps to create a hypnotic and compelling sound. Although still reinforcing the expansive style of the album, On The Moon juxtaposes Corpus Christi’s marriage of melody and harmony by conveying a clear contradiction between the lead vocals and Stoner’s banjo and guitar accompaniment. While some may argue that the soft, legato vocals are submerged by the strong, staccato string section, I feel that the punchy percussion does nothing but add to the energetic and upbeat nature of the track.

Mirroring the title of the album, Peripheral Vision epitomises all that is tender, soft, and loving in life. By repeating lines, such as ‘The girl in my blind spot’, composers Joe Forkan and Eric Stoner are not only able to reinforce themes of mystery, uncertainty, and longing, but also convey an overriding presence of ambiguity (which seems to trickle into each track on the album). With the howling call of the harmonica, a sense of regret seeps into this song – like a pillowcase being stained by tears. However, with the phrase ‘Her image breaks through’ comes the instigation of a new emotion: optimism. The closing bars of Peripheral Vision also reflect the hope and anticipation that can clearly be heard in the Forkan’s lyrical phrasing. Brimming with exoticisms, The Distance is a song which can only be described as ‘‘the perfect story.’’ Flawlessly underpinning the overall tone of the song, the interlude witnesses the banjo and guitar playing as if one instrument, while Jacob Valenzuela’s trumpet summons the listener to a distant land. Simply put, this song provides the heat of far-off places and is full of faded promises.

A technique used in both The Distance and Mule in the Mine, Forkan and Stoner’s incorporation of word painting highlights the sophistication and beauty of the album itself. Used extensively throughout Mule in the Mine, the embedded word painting in Forkan’s melody mirrors the vigour of the accompaniment and the percussions driving rhythm. Constantly flitting from fortissimo to pianissimo, Mule in the Mine is a song which packs a musical punch.

If you want to not only picture the vastness that originates with loneliness, but also experience that heat that comes from adventure, then listen to this album.

 

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Corpus Christi – Alpha Mule (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2505097247_16Whilst it is pretty much impossible to find music which totally encapsulates America as an idea and an entity, by virtue of its size and diversity, cultural blends and creative explorations, there is some music which when heard makes you think of no other place. The bleak and emotive howls of early blues, wild eyed jazz ensembles, the heartland rock of the likes of Petty and Springsteen and the evocative roots music which is at the heart of Alpha Mule. This Californian duo take threads of country, bluegrass and blues, and even some genres which didn’t appear in CBGB’s infamous sign, such as folk and rock and perhaps creates an American music for the modern age. It does feels built from the very bedrock of the American dream so why not?

Banjos propel the song through drifting guitar landscapes and eerie sonic backdrops, and wraps it around a wonderfully dark edged vocal, the result being the product not so much the soundtrack of an America that was, more to an America as modern film-makers like to envisaged it and bordering on an alternative dystopian western scenario which would feel more at home coming from the pen of the likes of Steven King. But if you are looking for music which evokes a past but is very much about the here and now, then Alpha Mule are your go to guys.

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