Sometimes it is impossible not to be derivative in music. The Group of Altos, structurally and sonically, seems largely influenced by Canadian post-rock ensembles Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think (all part of the terrific Constellation Records) with their large personnel, use of roaring guitars and rural twang as well as their incorporation of classical and jazz elements. Milwaukee’s affinity for all things Canadian speaks volumes to this influence (taking the name Altos could even be a metaphor for sociocultural American existence resembling Spain in comparison to our northern neighbors). The band’s efforts have received some noteworthy attention: Chicago post-rock icon Doug McCombs (member of Tortoise and Brokeback) recently namechecked the band. In addition, they scored Russian silent film Earth for the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2013. It is also worth noting that the band does have some impressive connections: member Daniel Spack is also part of Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir. R U Person or Not is their new record out on Mini50.
“Learning to Share” sets off on a fleshy beat and guitar noise; Kevin Drew-esque vocals enter with “no one shares anymore/just the kids/just the kids” as dissonance is layered over a synchronized groove accented by handclaps and horns. “To: Savior” borders on metal with some serious shredding and striking belting with the lines, “I was a derelict out in the morning fog/ and you there/delicate like the first snow on a winter’s day”. Singular low frequency Rhodes organ hits and descending blues runs set an overall ominous tone. “News from Wino” features a heavy rhythm, reverbed guitar and a thick sustained melody. “Guns” finishes off the first half of the album with a start-stop beat and a minimalist guitar riff.
“Fucks with Us” changes the pace with rapping from local MC Klassik over a appealing violin theme. “On Wreck” animates with a lively though slightly foreboding melody and the vocals, “this place is crowded/ these ships for trade/ it takes so long to row”. The entire song is sung by a choir of singers, which almost sounds like a singular Kyp Malone. “Coplights” begins with skittering ambiance. A duo of vocalists develops along with repetitive piano, guitar and a steady beat. Just when the song seems like it is going to crescendo in typical post-rock fashion everything fades out except for the piano and more atmospherics. The last words spoken are, “no one gets old/ the good ones are gone/ the best ones are paralyzed”. “Forgiveness Rules” ends the album with a complex groove and angular riff interrupted by an uproar of sound.
Overall, on this album, the Group of the Altos have moved away from their past work to something in which the influences are not as clear. It is refreshing and great to have a band in Milwaukee working to expand the sound of post-rock. That being said, some of this album is very sparse and sounds empty which seems counterintuitive coming from a band with so many members. Also, moving in a punk direction, as the band claimed they were with this album, is still imitative of the aforementioned Canadian groups. It would certainly be exciting and innovative if the band continues to move the sound of post-rock forward as they did at times with this album on their next release.