By Alba Lua
Alba Lua's 'Ballad of Joseph Merrick' EP is the sort of atmospheric alt-pop where the emphasis is on meticulously crafting a mood, rather than serving up the traditional dish of vocal and musical hooks. As such, they're an acquired taste.
The title track, occupies the unsettling no-man's land where naive, lullaby sound effects teeter on the edge of horror-movie-soundtrack. Disembodied voices waft through a shimmering fug of surreal slide-guitar, acoustic clattering and toybox sound effects. As if that wasn't unnerving enough, lead vocalist Pepo Durantez mumbles cryptically from somewhere deep in this song's murky depths. 'Ballad of Joseph Merrick' is a soft cloud of alt-pop, haunted by spine-tingling vocals.
'Sungaze' is 'Ballad of Joseph Merrick's polar opposite. Opening with some cheerful whistles and chimes, it quickly unfurls into a sun-drenched track that has something of a country vibe, with glimmering chords and jangling tambourine. Pepo Durantez's voice dances on the edge of hearing, occasionally taking centre stage for some carefree "la-la-la-la" rambling. There's only so much variety you can conjure up with the same toolbox of breathy vocals, distortion and chimes, and the folky element really helps to prevent the EP from blurring into one long, musical daydream.
Alba Lua know when they're onto a good thing, and switch mood yet again for EP-closer 'Valley of Abra.' With its long, echoey guitar lines and shuffle of acoustic strumming, this is the most sombre song on the EP. It's also the only song where Alba Lua shake off the stupor and take the listener on a journey where they really show what they can do with their instruments. Alternately batting the listener between some intricate noodling and pits of churning bass, this is the dramatic finale songs of this genre often lack, and it ensures Alba Lua stick in your mind as something more than just an atmospheric alt-pop act.
It's an acquired taste, but Alba Lua are very good at what they do, and their inclusion of folky elements and a dramatic finale, make this a refreshing take on the atmospheric alt-pop genre.