First Look Friday: NYC Quartet altopalo Finds Connection & Chaos On "hahsnheads" (Track Premiere)
(Photo by Scott Heins for Okayplayer)
altopalo is a band standing on the verge of everything comes next. Four young New York City instrumentalists with technical skills eclipsed only by their wild imaginations, the band has built its reputation as a highly-combustible live act, packing basement gigs and obliterating split bills with their blend of psychedelic rock and algebraic hip-hop grooves. Their songs are gleaming tangles of guitar, bass and drums—polyrhythmic and unafraid of ditching grooves as quickly as they’re found.
On their newest single “hahsnheads,” the group exhibits all the qualities that make them both daunting and deeply fun. Opening with a menacing pulse that falls into soft ease (are those lawn sprinklers we hear?), the track cycles over a serpentine bassline through metallic clicks and dopplering vocals. Tom drums clatter. Guitars moan from the other side of walls. Somehow it all ends in a massive, stadium-sized hook and calming coda. To hear "hahsnheads" is to get lost, flung and maybe even found.
It’s a rush. It’s a lot. Guitarist Mike Haldeman, drummer Dillon Treacy, keyboardist and vocalist Rahm Silverglade and bassist Jesse Bielenberg make no attempts to hide their love of effects, their weirdness and their well-honed techniques; the band’s songs seem to consume themselves as they get bigger, louder and funkier. Somehow, altopalo has found a way to play sonic Jenga forever, composing towers that grow ever-more chaotic but never fall apart.
altopalo was born out of the songs of others; Haldeman, Treacy, Silverglade and Bielenberg met while filling backing-band duties for vocalists around New York City, seizing on the chance to write and record together after only a few short months of hired-gun gigging. Now, with three of four members just graduated from NYU and other debating whether or not to return to academia, the band is effectively in full control of their future, and what bonds them is a certain sense of trust and artistic freedom. Their creative skill comes from years dedicated to their instruments--and under the influence of modern legends. When altopalo talks inspiration names like Madlib, Hiatus Kaiyote, Disclosure and Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan all get equal praise. Treacy specifically cites the jilted rhythms of Chris Dave, Grizzly Bear and Battles frontman Tyondai Braxton when he considers his own sound. The band performs with all the thunder of a 70s rock act, even as their brains fire at prog-jazz speed, and amidst this duality, their compositions flourish.
What began as an extracurricular activity has become one of the focal points of their modern lives. Their debut LP noneofuscared is set for a late 2015 release, and was born out of solo writing, group jamming, studio work, spontaneous apartment tracking and then many long 3 a.m. nights lit by laptops. In Treacy’s words, it contains “worlds of overdubs,” and demands repeated listens for its untamed tones and veering rhythms to make their purposes plain. But spend enough time with—and all of noneofuscared--and you’ll find four bright voices eager to connect across sonic trails that they themselves have blazed. These fresh paths might lead everywhere.