Circles of Surprises 

The Shape-Shifting Sounds of Sic Alps

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For all the talk that's been bandied about the garage scene this year, one of its best tracks eschewed trash-rock trappings and arrived atop a jaunty acoustic guitar and sunny, moving "ooh" backing vocals. "L. Mansion," Sic Alps' initial 7-inch with new member (and prolific solo artist in his own right) Ty Segall, is provocatively catchy, with a skulking backbeat of rimshot and tom, and a three-note piano solo. Restrained as the A-side is, Sic Alps save their convulsions for the flipside of the 7-inch, a beefy cover of Donovan's "Superlungs (My Supergirl)"—a song that was perhaps best rendered by Terry Reid, the dude who turned down the lead singer slot in Led Zeppelin.

As fun as that cover song is, it shows that Sic Alps' strengths lie—perhaps surprisingly—in their songwriting, unlike most of their peers who traffic in attitude and scrimp on tune. This is nowhere more evident than on the mammoth, 27-track A Long Way Around to a Shortcut, a collection of singles and 12-inches from a ridiculously fertile period in 2006-2007. Shortcut has just been reissued as a double LP on Drag City, and it's a history of the core Sic Alps duo of Mike Donovan and Matt Hartman. Donovan started Sic Alps with Bianca Sparta of Erase Errata, and later recruited Hartman, a Bay Area veteran of many bands as well as a one-time member of Cat Power's touring band.

Shortcut displays the riches of Sic Alps' pop sensibilities, which span from folk-flecked jamboree-pop to sludgier distorto-riffing, not to mention a venomously experimental bent on the amorphous noise sculpture "Description of the Harbor." Donovan told me in an email that he's pleased Shortcut is able to relay Sic Alps' brief history to new fans: "We are still in an alpha mode with a greatest hits mind. [But] we are gathering up a big variety of songs right now. The arrow director is spinning." On this tour, they're hawking a split 12-inch with tourmates Magik Markers, and Donovan hopes next year will see "a new record in the shape of a circle or two." Based on Sic Alps' track record, those circles are bound to contain a surprise or two.

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