Minor Alps is the duo of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws—Caws the front man from the band Nada Surf, Hatfield the long-time indie-rock/alt-rock goddess—and this is a duo in the most intertwined sense of the word. Not only do their melodic, ’90s-based musical instincts seem thoroughly interconnected, but their voices are so oddly similar that Hatfield has been quoted as saying that even she sometimes can’t distinguish between them on record. On this song, the vocals are shared throughout, and the verses are sung without harmony, accentuating the indistinguishability. This becomes especially interesting given the subject matter, which is the awkwardness between two people spending the evening together, getting to know each other, but wondering how to instigate physical contact. Having both the male and female voice speaking the same thoughts underlines the poignancy of the insecurity. It is a small-subject song enlarged greatly by lyrical discipline and musical straightforwardness. The subtle but definitive opening is the shift in the last verse, which moves the problem from the local to the global, a songwriting technique that never fails to move me:
I can’t decide on the channel
I’m just flipping around, maybe you can choose
Maybe some kind of monster
Maybe I just don’t know how to reach out
I love the graceful blurring of meaning in the third line, as the narrator seems to slip from talking about what’s on television to what may be the state of his/her heart and mind and being. This is further insinuated by the last iteration of the chorus, as the song ends, when the lyrics finally leave out the words “with my hands,” and the relentless minor-key drive of the music arrives at both apotheosis and long-delayed resolution.
The debut Minor Alps album, Get There, came out on Barsuk Records back in October without causing as much fuss as it might have; critics liked it but it never rose to buzz level here in the only place that matters, the internet. (Please add dripping sarcasm to that last sentence, if you haven’t already.) Thanks to the ever-discerning Lauren Laverne at BBC 6 for the head’s up on the more recent availability of this song as a free and legal MP3. You can download it above, in the usual way; but note that this one plus six others are currently available as free and legal downloads via NoiseTrade, where leaving a “tip” for the artists is also encouraged. Note that four of the songs on NoiseTrade are not on the album. Alternatively, the fine song “Buried Plans” (on the album) is available as a free and legal download via Barsuk Records.