Released: October 2015
Co-produced by Claudius Mittendorfer (Johnny Marr, Kaiser Chiefs, Temples) and frontman Petter Ericson Stakee, the third, self-titled LP by Alberta Cross was recorded in a church that now goes by the name of ‘Dreamland’. This ethereal environment is the very foundation upon which the album is built, as tinkling pianos and tender guitars glow beneath Stakee’s warm falsetto. Full of whistled hooks and story-telling poetry, Alberta Cross is a by the book collection of indie-folk tunes; it rigidly follows the rules of its genre, the religious spirituality of its conception failing to make enough of an impact on this decidedly mediocre LP.
As well as its connection to the divine, this third record from the London band, which is now more of a solo project since the departure of its only other permanent member Terry Wolfers in 2013, is influenced by the late night New York jams Stakee found himself a part of earlier in the year. One gets a sense of these origins as the album goes on, with tracks such as Isolation and Heavy Words providing plenty of guitar-produced fuzz and complex drum rhythms, yet failing to actually make any kind of impact.
There is the odd stylistic flourish here and there to keep things vaguely interesting, but little in the way of substance. Many tracks feel like a jam or a concept taken too far, like a fun idea was stretched over several minutes and failed to develop itself into anything worthy of recording. A particular example of this lack of restraint is the album’s conclusion, a song titled It’s You That’s Changing that spends over six minutes trudging through the same chords tenderly picked on a guitar, and later plonked on a piano with a soft, simplistic drum beat behind it. It’s complete and utter indulgence and fails to satisfactorily develop rhythmically, melodically and texturally. Stakee might be enjoying himself here, but we aren’t.
It’s all very amiable and listenable but nothing really stands out as an important moment within the album. It follows the 21st century alt-folk template almost precisely and ends up sounding like the background music of an American soap opera, characterised by that overly sincere style of bland southern rock outfits like Of Monsters and Men or The Lumineers. Ghost of Santa Fe probably comes the closest to having its own identity: it is a bold track with brass and rolling military drums that fires up the heart, but by the time it has reached its middle section one feels like they are listening to an Elbow or Sigur Ros album filler, certainly not the kind of proudly identifiable music one would expect from a self-titled record.
Stakee’s vocals are a highlight, often dragging tame songs kicking and screaming into marginally interesting territory with his impressive range and almost androgynous style. You’ll Be Fine sees him display a lullaby-like quality in his vocal performance whilst on Easy Street the frontman is all reflective melancholia. He’s an impressive performer, just not much of a songwriter.
The indie-folk genre died a horrible death a few years ago; even Mumford & Sons have moved on. Trying to resurrect it was a mistake, and one Alberta Cross are unlikely to make again. This project isn’t quite what one deserves to expect from a self-title record by a band with two admittedly decent LPs already under its belt – it is bland and unimaginative, rescued only by its creator’s impressive vocal range and knack for a colourful melody. Hopefully a new sound and more distinctive identity will be present on the next Alberta Cross album.