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Alberta Cross: Exciting and Authentic New Folk Rock Coming Out of the UK
Folk rock is a difficult genre for me to identify with sometimes. I tend often tend to drift towards more rock titles or more folksy titles than linger in the middle between the two. It's a hard combination to make work, as so much "acoustic rock" already exists out in the mainstream music scene that often bands sound like rehashes, or even rehashes or rehashes. Some bands though, blend equal parts folk and rock and roll to create a sound that is both earthy and more energetic. This band, Alberta Cross, seems to be one of the good ones.
Hailing from the United Kingdom, Alberta Cross is one of the more unique bands I've heard in recent times. Although their sound does have a lot of folk (both English and American) earthiness and I would definitely put them under the somewhat overused and overtly vague folk rock heading, there is a lot more to their music than just that. There are some elements of what some might dub "indie rock," if you would like to use "indie" as a term describing sounds. There is also a lot of bluesy bits that when combined with vocals that range from soaringly delicate to a sort of fractured, floating simplicity, makes for some beautiful and compelling songs.
It's a pretty unique mix, but does fit in with a lot of bands I've heard recently. That's not a bad thing though, as this band sounds very comfortable in their music, not morphing at the whim of the mainstream. There's also enough of a spontaneous feel that songs that might sound over produces and pretentious in some hands, sound real and authentic.
I haven't gotten to hear too many Alberta Cross tracks so far, only the four that are available to listen to on their Myspace page and a preview clip, but I'm intrigued and am looking forward to what else this band has to offer.
The first track is called "Leave Us Or Forever", and in my opinion is easily one of the most interesting of the four. With a driving, straightforward, but also restrained riff, it's a pretty catchy opening track, although also one that might blend into the "indie rock" mix in other situations. What makes it stand out is it's vocals. The delivery and timbre just seems to soar, float and haunt at the same time making for some very sweeping melodic moments. There's certainly a earthy element to that vocal style, but also some soul, and a certain quality that recalls a little of Thom Yorke of Radiohead to my ear. It carries through to the other songs as well, but seems to also morph with each one's particular style. Take "Devil's All You Ever Had." On this slow burning, gritty ballad, the vocals take on a little more of a bluesy and soulful edge. As the song builds with layers of guitar there's also some great backing vocals that sound both organized and spontaneous. I especially like how the song seems slightly disjointed with plenty of minimalist space and pauses, both in the arrangements and the actual rhythm, as it seems to add to the spontaneous vibe.
Both "Lucy Rider" and "Hard Breaks" seem like more upbeat moments than the other tracks. The first has a bit of restrained earthy swagger, and a catchy chorus that works really well, while the latter turns the lighthearted feel up a little more with a bit of a folk stomp that gets your toes tapping, but isn't over the top. This song, "Hard Breaks", sounds so natural with it's sing along choruses and earthy feel. It's quite catchy and I could see the band really enjoying themselves playing it during some impromptu shows, if they choose to do those types of shows. They have a video on their Myspace that is of the band playing an un-mic'd show and using a improvised plastic drum kit so I bet they have a few interesting performances up their sleeves. I can almost hear the spontaneous clapping and singing that now.
I also heard a clip of a their album's title track, "The Thief and the Heartbreaker", where it sounds like they channel a bit more of a mystic flavored blues while still retaining their own sound. This clip is only a preview, but with it's swaggering, slow pulsing rhythm, topped by that same vocal timbre, it sounds like a pretty interesting track and I'm looking forward to hearing it in it's entirety.
Overall I like this band's authentic and unique feel as they take folk rock away from the more produced acoustic rock that has become so common place, and infuse more of true folk and blues ideas back into it. Their music is pretty heavy (in that it weighs on you, not hard rock/metal heavy), both lyrically and in feel, and even the lighter moments do seem to have just a slight air of melancholy or sadness surrounding them. That might be a turn off to some people, but to me they don't sound overly melodramatic or depressing. As I've said a few times already, they sound very... authentic.
I think a lot of people who are into the lighter sides of indie rock, folk rock and those earthier tones might enjoy Alberta Cross. They definitely have talent and I'm looking forward to hearing a little more of their work and keeping an eye on them in the future.
Check out the band's Myspace to hear the tracks I've mentioned here, watch a few videos and perhaps purchase/download their album: http://www.myspace.com/albertacross