In a recent “Soundbites” column, I outlined a few basic dos and don’ts for trying to get your band some press. Though my “rules” pertained specifically to Seven Days, they are fairly universally accepted guidelines in the wacky world of music journalism. The first: Don’t drop off a CD on a Monday morning hoping to get it reviewed in that Wednesday’s paper. I received a few emails about that one in particular, most pointing out the seeming hypocrisy of stating a ground rule and proceeding to break it by writing about the offending artist’s album. First of all, though there was some truth behind it, the whole “rules” bit was a farce — and a rather obvious one at that. Second, and most importantly, when the album in question is Alter Alert from Burlington songwriter Austin Sirch, “rules,” farcical or otherwise, should simply be checked at the door.
Sirch’s sophomore outing picks up where his 2005 self-titled debut left off. In the two-and-a-half years since, it appears the tunesmith has honed his considerable-but-scattered anti-folk talents. With Alter Alert, Sirch delivers on the enormous promise exhibited by his curiously delightful first album; the record retains a youthful, wide-eyed innocence, but is buoyed by purposeful musicianship and songwriting.
The album was recorded and produced by Burlington indie impresario Ryan Power, who knows a thing or two about striking a balance between experimental melioration and deft musical prowess. The guy has simply never recorded a bad song, which is remarkable when you consider how far he tends to paint outside the musical lines. Power’s influence is apparent throughout, but never, ahem, overpowers Sirch. It’s a credit both to the producer’s painstaking precision and the musician’s crystalline but subtly substantial compositions.
Sirch offers one deceptively fragile gem after another from start to finish on this disc. His airy tenor lilts weightlessly over a surprisingly complex bed of guitars and occasional atmospheric bowed strings. It’s a perfect complement to his fractured, wistful lyricism.
In concert, Sirch displays a nervous, boyish charm that almost threatens to derail his performances. But that disorganized anxiety arguably serves as his greatest asset on record. With Alter Alert, Austin Sirch has struck a most elusive balance: refined entropy.