Desolation Lake sits high in the Sierras, the spiritual hearth that has shaped Alpine Decline’s music throughout their various urban expeditions across Beijing and Los Angeles. It’s part of a maze of glacial lakes where the band’s core duo began to plot their future together as musicians and partners, a place of spiritual thaw that shaped them then and shapes them now.
But the Return isn’t a mining of the past. Alpine Decline, like the rest of us, can barely recognize it. It’s also not a “California record,” despite the fact that the band returned to LA in late 2016 after seven years ground out in the Chinese capital. “Everyone had this sense of the growing fear of the future, the downward trend lines, and we felt like we could position our records as a trove of artifacts from the near future, to be discovered in the very distant future,” they say.
Return to Desolation Lake *is* a quiet record, eschewing the obsession with spun-out tape echo chaos that stitches together most of the band’s earlier albums in a fog of semi-coherence. Years spent wading through thick atmospheres, blurred saws, vocals torn up in the wind, drums bottled up and thrown into the ocean, and a general, palpable disorientation have led Alpine Decline to a new beginning, a more confident, tuneful, and rueful place from which to sing at the downward spiral.
Return to Desolation Lake is less distorted, more real, more raw — less affect, more effect. Its songs are delivered on steel-picked guitar, drums hit powerfully but not urgently. They bleed into each other with the welcome unifying touch of the band’s evolving modular synth side-arm. There was always an ember of brilliance beneath the miasma, but on Return to Desolation Lake we get the unvarnished immediacy of Alpine Decline’s taut lyrics and songwriting chops, a moving melange made more intimate by the up-front placement of the duo’s vocals, like they’re cupping their hands around your ears and delivering these calming dispatches for recurring audiences of one.
A spiritual thaw, Return to Desolation Lake is the sound of things cracking gently, the high-mountain suffocation of air that doesn’t hold oxygen set to record, the kind of cold that comes rushing into mind during periods of intense flux. It’s public and personal, and has innumerable treasures to reveal on every close listen.
Return to Desolation Lake will be released on vinyl and CD by Maybe Mars Records in March 2018.