The Deli #56 - Altopalo, NAMM 2019, Queens takes over Brooklyn

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<strong>Altopalo</strong> started off the way<br />

many great NYC bands do:<br />

as college friends. Mike<br />

Haldeman, Jesse Bielenberg,<br />

Dillon Treacy, and Rahm Silverglade<br />

met while studying at NYU,<br />

where they hung out in similar circles<br />

and shared a love for tinkering with<br />

sound. <strong>The</strong> four were thrown together<br />

under some pretty serendipitous<br />

circumstances for a school gig, and<br />

officially came together as altopalo in<br />

2013. Since then, they’ve been creating<br />

songs that fuse electronica and<br />

R&B, and sometimes dip into postrock<br />

and psych musings. <strong>The</strong>ir sophomore<br />

release, frozenthere, came out<br />

earlier this year on Samedi records.<br />

<strong>The</strong> band’s debut album noneofuscared<br />

came out in 2015—an impressive and<br />

refreshing blend of funky electronica that<br />

caught the attention of local scenesters<br />

and music blogs. Silverglade’s expressive<br />

vocals layered <strong>over</strong> knotted rhythms<br />

and moody modulations (plus some serious<br />

production chops) made for a captivating<br />

record that stood out at a time<br />

when the “indie rock sound” was starting<br />

to feel stale. <strong>The</strong> record picked up where<br />

Radiohead’s Kid A left off, offering an<br />

experimental take on James Blake style<br />

electro-R&B, with a few primal screams<br />

thrown in for good measure.<br />

<strong>Altopalo</strong>’s newest album frozenthere<br />

pulses more than it grooves.<br />

Where noneofuscared was eager to<br />

burst open and invite you into its spacey<br />

universe, frozenthere is assuredly<br />

patient. It’s an avant-garde record that<br />

unfurls slowly, revealing the band’s more<br />

vulnerable introspections on relationships<br />

in the digital age.<br />

On the new project, altopalo<br />

made the conscious decision to leave behind<br />

their conventional full-band sensibility<br />

in favor of something more challenging<br />

and sparse. “We were listening to some<br />

artists that played with orchestration in<br />

inspiring ways and used that as a departure<br />

from writing for four instruments.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> process was a lot like taking<br />

a slab of marble and sculpting away<br />

until the desired shape is achieved, and<br />

it wasn’t easy. Just as Brian Eno used the<br />

recording studio as an instrument unto<br />

itself on Another Green World, altopalo<br />

views audio editing software Ableton as<br />

a unique tool for their songs. <strong>The</strong>re were<br />

several cycles of improvising, scrapping<br />

and going back to the drawing board—<br />

or rather, sounding board. “It’s an arduous<br />

process, you wish it were simpler.<br />

We could release two albums-worth<br />

of material comprised only of different<br />

versions of ‘(Head in a) Cloche.’” Along<br />

the way, altopalo realized that when it<br />

comes to songwriting, more is not in<br />

fact more. “Adding one good sound to<br />

another good sound more often than not<br />

makes them both worse.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> LP was written and recorded<br />

in the dead of winter of 2016 in<br />

Indiana. Being away from the city helped<br />

the musicians unc<strong>over</strong> a fresh perspective<br />

on what it means to be isolated—<br />

emotionally, physically, and digitally—<br />

which would inform the album’s central<br />

conceit. “Leaving New York to work, it<br />

becomes quite clear what pressures ease<br />

off as the city recedes behind you. <strong>The</strong><br />

<strong>over</strong>bearing presence of the city’s ‘noise’<br />

in its many shapes and varieties fades<br />

away quickly, and it doesn’t really become<br />

clear until you can hear the ringing<br />

in your ears just below the rustle of leaves<br />

made by a nearby pack of coyotes.”<br />

Whereas living in New York<br />

can sometimes force stifling living spac-<br />

es, recording in Indiana gave altopalo<br />

some room to breathe, reflect and ultimately<br />

take their songs into a new direction.<br />

“We’ve all lived in pretty cramped<br />

accommodations in the city, too, and<br />

that minimizing of personal space brings<br />

with it a proximity to others that can<br />

grow at times uncomfortable in its unexpected<br />

intimacy.”<br />

<strong>The</strong>ir songs ruminate on the<br />

distortion of relationships, both physical<br />

and digital. frozenthere meditates<br />

on what it means to feel close, or far, or<br />

stuck—whether it’s in the form of struggling<br />

with monogamy or losing yourself<br />

in the endless scroll of an instagram<br />

feed. In this context, the notion of being<br />

frozen <strong>takes</strong> on new meaning. It draws a<br />

line from digital freeze—a buffering video,<br />

a glitchy facetime call, the flattened<br />

quality of an instagram profile—to a<br />

more tactile sense of coldness.<br />

<strong>Altopalo</strong> wouldn’t be the first<br />

band to admit that they have a fraught<br />

relationship with technology. By now,<br />

we’ve all heard the arguments against<br />

the alienating impacts of social media<br />

and nobody needs another laundry list of<br />

why it’s ultimately detrimental for our social<br />

and mental wellbeing. But this skepticism<br />

can be trickier to navigate when<br />

your work depends on sharing, creating,<br />

and connecting online.<br />

After taking a step back, altopalo<br />

were able to see—and express—<br />

clearly the frustrating duality of urban<br />

life: being constantly surrounded by others<br />

but feeling increasingly isolated, and<br />

in turn, “feeling alienated by the ways in<br />

which we distract ourselves from the immediate<br />

world by immersing ourselves in<br />

a universe of screens and pixels.”<br />

A universe, it turns out, that’s<br />

as alienating as it is inspiring—at least as<br />

far as music creation is concerned. d<br />

<strong>Altopalo</strong>’s Favorite Stompboxes<br />

“[We use the] Behringer US600 Ultra Shifter, whose “flutter” setting is paired with the EHX<br />

Stereo Memory Man w/ Hazarai on some bass parts. Mike really likes delay and pitch shifting.<br />

He’s got 5 delay pedals on his board, 2 of which have pitch-shifting capabilities, and<br />

one standalone pitch shifter. <strong>The</strong> Line 6 DL-4 and the Montreal Assembly Count to Five<br />

are often used in tandem with other delays to create floral rushes and verdant cascades.”<br />

the deli Winter <strong>2019</strong> 21

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