Altopalo’s ‘Mono’ is one of the most rewarding experimental tracks you’ll hear this year
It can be really easy to label some music as “experimental”. Oftentimes it gets used as an easy, convenient shorthand for anything which falls outside of normative, descriptive genre categories, or anything which reads as challenging rather than being reserved for music which is actually new and boundary-pushing. But, save for the (really fantastic) YVES TUMOR record, the music pouring out of New York quartet ALTOPALO is some of the most genuinely experimental and avant-garde shit I’ve heard all year. Somehow – remarkably – the group’s style finds the intersection of ambient, indie rock, soul, R&B, jazz, funk, sound collage and field recordings and nestles in for some truly stunning and inventive compositions. Veterans of the New York underground scene in their own right, Altopalo share ties to MOSES SUMNEY and AMBER MARKS, and like those artists their music seems preoccupied with the thought-provoking deconstruction of R&B traditions towards a more amorphous, genre-less future.
‘Mono’, the lead single from their just-released debut album, frozenthere, is a good point of entry into the outfit’s dizzying experimentalism, being described by the band as “the first song that dramatically shaped the sound of the Altopalo creative process and redirected the sound into what would eventually become frozenthere”. According to the quartet, it represents a shift away from band-orientated music and into “more compositionally-minded” territory.
As a result, ‘Mono’ demands your unfettered attention, a pure example of musical return on investment, training and eventually absorbing the listener into Altopalo’s patiently building process. Starting with a murmur of a bass synth and silences that stretch on for an eternity punctured only by lead singer RAHM SILVERGRADE’S whispery vocals, ‘Mono’ gradually engulfs itself in overblown drums, clicking percussion, quivering, humming synths and gorgeous, syncopated guitars. A comprehensive list of all the sounds Altopalo compress into ‘Mono’, whether it be the sample of papers shuffling that appears for a few seconds in between the first and second verses or the vocal harmonies that incite the track’s climax, would simply be impossible to catalogue here. Sounds, melodies and instruments wander in and out of the track as if it were a 3D space, but as it flowers, the abstract, disconnected and inconclusive shapes of the music begin to take on the contours of Silvergrade’s lyrical musings on the myth of monogamous love.
It’s incredibly plastic music, bending and moulding itself into endlessly pliable combinations, always testing and stretching the limits of its elasticity. But at the same time, it’s impossibly structured, down to the most microscopic, atomic levels. (Supposedly the songwriting process goes something like this: each track starts as a field recording, which the band refers to as the “germinal”, before being fleshed out to its fully realised, final form). What Altopalo achieve on ‘Mono’ is a kind of formless sonic architecture which, despite its structured nature, holds the composition in constant flux and transformation, keeping ‘Mono’ surprising and organic at each turn. It’s what makes it one of the richest and most rewarding experimental tracks that you’re likely to hear this year.