The problem with any music industry buzz is the knowledge that the buzz quickly fades and the act stagnates and often dies. The number of acts that have been slapped by “the buzz” and then left to fester is many, the ones that soldier on and actually have anything that resembles a career are few.
So here is one of the acts that got stung by the buzz and faded gently into the background, leaving behind a debut album that was an almost perfect lesson in using analogue synths indie style. As a young A&R scout at the time, we’re talking 2000 here, this band were very different to anything that was on my radar. And therein lies the joy.
Crawling from the ashes of two nondescript late 1990s Manchester bands, Richard Woolgar and Glyn Thomas began Alpinestars after dropping the original name, Maxim, before their first gig. A hastily arranged favour for a promoter mate of theirs, the name was taken from Richard’s push bike.
The journey from this point to the release of ‘B.A.S.I.C.’ (‘Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code’) was swift, even taking into account the three EPs that preceded its release. If anything, its basic approach (pun intended) was its strength. Even when the duo attempted to go out live, there were accompanied by many bells and whistles that tried to over compensate for its perceived lack of visual excitement.
Yet for all the fading of the buzz, ‘B.A.S.I.C.’ is a demandingly powerful debut. The synths whirr and scream, jostling with low-rent drum machine patterns and folktronica-style back rhythms. Thomas was insistent that acoustic guitars were used to fill out the machines and give the album a sense of grounding. ’Size 9’ is a spiralling version of this as is the haunting, almost Chemical Brothers homage ‘You Rescue’. But there are moments that recall a childlike love of The Human League’s ‘Travelogue’ era (‘Jump Jet’ or the ‘Interlaken’ single B-side ‘Discothug’ from the same sessions), as well as the endearing value of ‘Cresta La Wave’, which wouldn’t have been out of place if it had rocked up on Dindisc in 1980.
As with all these DIY ethic records it was self produced and thus its overall clout was possibly diminished as musicians aren’t necessarily producers. But as an effort from two bright Mancunian lads who had been drowning in a sea of post-Britpop guitars, ‘B.A.S.I.C.’ is still now very refreshing, catchily digestible and could easily beat pretty much all-comers in a synth off.