In The Afternoon
is one of those deliciously Sunday afternoon-feeling albums that make you happy to be sad. It's conceptual, inasmuch as it's meant to be a travelogue, reflecting different aspects of different lives, but don't let that put you off -- this is a gloriously-arranged disc of heartfelt songs, not a collection of prog-wank.
The album's arrangements are more lush than previous attempts -- players from Pinetop Seven, Joan of Arc and the Flying Luttenbachers, among others, have been brought in to add a bit of flavor. The result is well worth it, too; imagine if Rachel's released songs with vocals, and you're probably in the right neighborhood.
The group doesn't rely purely on acoustic instruments (though there are some gorgeous upright-bass sounds captured here). Rather, L'Altra are becoming more confident in the realm of electronics: there are small sampled pieces and beats throughout; the birds that mutate into winds on "Traffic" are one example. Rather than sounding tacked-on, the technology seems to fit organically into the band's sound. Interestingly, listening to the disc, I found myself drawn to the thought of breathing; that gentle undulation, that constant flow is very much in evidence in the way the song-structures are captured here. Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa's vocals twine together, sometimes harmonizing, sometimes not, but with more fluidity than most. There's an immediately noticeable sympathy that's often missing in other bands' works, and this sets L'Altra apart -- you'll always be convinced that they mean what they say.
Essentially, L'Altra sound like what bands like Lincoln are reaching towards, but not quite getting. In The Afternoon is a collection of the same sort of quiet, measured tunes that Dakota Suite has made their stock-in-trade -- the sort of music that you can imagine Mark Kozelek making, if he ever found his way out of his bedroom. Like Tindersticks without the (sometimes unnecessary, let's be frank) strings, and with a better sense of vocal clarity, L'Altra is the kind of band whose releases would be best sold with some cheap red wine and a carton of cigarettes for those long, lonely nights in. Unlike some other purveyors of tragi-pop, In The Afternoon never seems too cloying; in the end, there's just the feeling of sunlight over the horizon, not endless despair. It's this balance that makes In The Afternoon precious. I raise my glass to 'em.