Minor Alps – Get There
by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published November 11th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Minor Alps is a relatively new project by two veterans of indie rock, Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws, which seems at first glance like a worthy endeavor. Hatfield is an extraordinarily prolific singer-songwriter with 21 studio albums to her name that date all the way from her late 1980s teenage years, and Caws fronts alternative rock band Nada Surf. Both now in their mid-40s, with their most successful years more than a decade gone, Hatfield and Caws have a lot in common to draw on.
Beyond the circumstantial details, Minor Alps displays a fair amount of chemistry between the two vocalists. Neither Hatfield nor Caws could faithfully be called “amazing singers,” but both have crafted entirely respectable careers by leveraging their strengths, and, as veterans of the alt-rock realm, know a thing-or-two about successful collaboration. The most remarkable asset Minor Alps can flaunt on debut LP Get There, then, is that Hatfield and Caws’ vocal harmonies tend to sound remarkably pretty.
The songs, however, are crushingly straightforward. No matter how sonically pleasant some phrases come across, Get There’s lyrical content never approaches a level of particularly engaging insight. Like Hatfield and Caws’ voices, Get There’s lyrics are mostly a structural necessity that enable Minor Alps songs to sound like they should. The most impactful moments lyrically are those that actually emote something, like the chorus of “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands,” which achieves a Broken Social Scene-like level of playful awkwardness by repeating the very words in the track name. Minor Alps actually sounds like BSS pretty often, though after—say—about 90 fewer cups of coffee (which fits, because BSS has about 90 more members than Minor Alps).
When lyrics and instrumentals underwhelm (forgive me for not discussing the latter, but think “soft alt-rock” and you get it), the most compelling arguments for Minor Alps’ existence are the rare hooks that actually force you to listen for a moment, such as on “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands” or the pretty and understated “Maxon.” But the verses on Get There actually feel like they’re killing time between choruses, as they resort to asking all sorts of unsubstantial questions like “Do I really need someone / or do I need to be alone?”
Insubstantiality turns out to be exactly the issue with Minor Alps. Hatfield and Caws, for all of their similar circumstances, haven’t provided any sort of reason for this music to exist beyond the fact that the act of layering their respective breathy voices yields a pretty harmony. At this point in Hatfield and Caws’ careers, Minor Alps is a fairly low-risk undertaking and Get There is a low-ambition album. Given that, the result speaks for itself.
Recommended Tracks: I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands, Maxon