Graded on a Curve: Alicja-Pop,
Howlin’

The musical achievements of Alicja Trout are considerable. From her home base of Memphis, she’s played in numerous bands, a few of them still extant, she’s operated her own label, and she’s worked at her project Alicja-Pop, which Trout describes as both a “solo endeavor and a group venture…” On Howlin’, her second LP of Alicia-Pop material, available on 180g black vinyl and digital on October 15 through Black & Wyatt Records, the dozen tracks reinforce Trout’s stated duality as they unwind with nary a hiccup. Amid stylistic range, the common threads are strong songs and inspired execution.

The highest-profile outfit to benefit from Alicja Trout’s skills is surely Lost Sounds, a group she started alongside Rich Crook and the late Jay Reatard way back in 1999. But she was in The Clears before that, and has additionally completed the lineups of The Ultracats, C.C. Riders (with Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, formerly of the Gibson Bros.), Black Sunday, Destruction Unit, The Satyrs, Fresh Flesh, The Fitts, Nervous Patterns, Mouserocket, River City Tanlines, and Sweet Knives (the last three are listed in Black & Wyatt’s Alicja-Pop bio as being currently active).

Alicja-Pop’s prior LP, Rats (Home Recordings 2009-2013) came out in 2016 on Certified PR Records, that label also dishing a pair of Alicja-Pop 45s in 2010-’11. Before that, there was Alicja’s Home Recordings, released in 2004 under her given name on CDr by her own label Contaminated Records. And reaching back to ye olde 20th century, she even cut a couple songs as Daphne Diaphanous (issued on a Chunklet magazine CD and on the soundtrack to the grindhouse-psychotronic homage The Sore Losers).

Given all this activity, one might gather the impression that Trout enjoys making music. Howlin’ easily substantiates this notion, with the opening track “Incandescent Time Continuum” falling on the “group venture” side of Alicja-Pop’s spectrum (the participants are listed as Lori McStay, Jared McStay, and Andrew Geraci). While there’s a persistent layer of electronics running through its New Wavy sensibility (an aura enhanced in no small part by Trout’s singing), there is also a surplus of raw, stinging guitar, no surprise given the background detailed above.

“Vines A” dives deeper into electronics and registers as solo in conception, initially radiating like a primo slice of uncovered DIY techno-pop from the dawn of the ’80s. Then the vocals emerge, their breathiness underscoring the pop in Alicja-Pop’s equation. And minus the singing, the following cut, “Yellow Moon,” its melodic rock a tad reminiscent of Juliana Hatfield, would sound like it came from a completely different band.

And I do emphasize band. But then, the title track gets me into a post-Liz Phair/ Chan Marshall/ Mary Timony state of mind, which is a cool twist. Predominantly built upon strummed guitar, vocals, and a woozy synth solo, “Howlin’” can be classified as lo-fi, though it’s notably lacking in tape hissy atmosphere.

Like the first Alicja-Pop album, this LP, which features tracks recorded from 2017-2020, is best considered as a compilation of accumulated work rather than as an album of songs either conceived as such or merely reflective of a tighter gestation. And yet, Howlin’ is held together quite nicely by unified production and Trout’s presence, even as there’s a continued spread-out of styles.

“Feel It,” for instance, sharpens its New Wave edge with bold guitar repetition to land betwixt dance-punk (a la Pylon) and art-punk (similar to Urinals). And with “Glass Planet, Blank Space Mind,” Trout offers a nicely scuzzy dose of vaguely post-glam action that’s a bit similar to the stuff her fellow garage punkers have been dishing out over the last few years.

However, “Don’t Say No” picks up the tough and anthemic pop-rocking pace, in the process delivering the record one of its standouts (the handclaps seal the deal). And at the start of “Creepface,” I was briefly reminded of the Music Machine (likewise, at song’s end), but overall, the cut saunters into the neighborhood of those Vivian Girls, which suits me just fine.

“Will U Come” exudes an art-pop feel, but it’s also appealingly DIY in style, and I note the track’s spelling, as it reflects the cited influence of Prince. The song doesn’t sound like Prince (frankly, nothing on Howlin’ does); the connection is more about method. Like Prince, Trout often does it herself, but even when she doesn’t, she’s still calling the shots and shaping the sound. There’s also genre bending to consider.

“Shadow Hills” has a slightly stoned and surfy (or perhaps just beachy) feel, while “That Is Why” blends Hatfield with maybe a touch of Wilco. It’d make a swell final song on a mixtape, but interestingly, it’s not the last track on Howlin’. Instead, that distinction belongs to “Vines B,” the record’s other standout, which features bolder band conception mingled with more electronics. It brings Alicja-Pop’s latest to a satisfying conclusion, as the range coheres with repeated listens, connecting like a deliberately crafted album after all.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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