As with labelmates Magik Markers, Oakland, Calif.'s Sic Alps treads such a very fine line between ramshackle, lo-fi scuzz and effortless pop melodies that it's endearing, impressive and fun to guess where things will go next.
Napa Asylum is an apropos title, as the songs here sound exactly like they were recorded in an old, abandoned space—one haunted by the ghosts of the Kinks, early Pavement and Dylan—on four-track machines. The result? Some seriously fog-laden dirty gems that reveal themselves over multiple listens.
Most of Napa Asylum's 22 songs are short and sweet (the whole album clocks in at 47:32); no time is wasted building up to melody and hooks. Take, for example, the Kinks-like pop of "Ball of Fame," and "Low Kid," which wouldn't sound out of place on an early Guided by Voices album. On the other hand, album opener "Jolly" and "Do You Want to Give $$?" could pass for obscure, late-'60s reverb-doused Nuggets-era psychedelic pop.
Then there's the almost hurried, early Royal Trux-like swagger of "Saint Peter Writes His Book" and the teetering, meandering "Trip Train," which provide a symbiotic complement to the more melodic pop numbers, giving the album a broader scope and more mystery.