I hate to say it, but between recently featured acts like Loquat and Faded Paper Figures, it almost seems like I am covering too many groups centered on a husband and wife. Then again though, such respective acts take neither melodramatic romanticism nor thematic desperation into the studio with them. It allows them to enter whichever stylistic scene they wish without promoting their personal status to a desperate means. So, with that in mind, it should not really matter at all; the only aspect I am looking for is quality, and it is by no coincidence that a plethora of groups with some sort of matrimonial connection are breaking out in a big way. If anything, the experience gained allows for a more astute lyrical perspective, with the actual audible content occasionally being uplifted by chemistry that is as natural as one could possibly perceive. Oh, and as for the latest of this nature? Well, they go by the odd name of Alt-Ctrl-Sleep and are comprised of husband and wife duo Joe and April Diaco. Unlike what their odd choice of a name may convey, this is not some synth-powered pop music that one would deem “cute” or “bouncy”. No, no… instead, the Diacos play with a form of subdued psychedelic-pop that is more reminiscent of melancholic reflection than upbeat romanticism, a somewhat unconventional approach for a tactful duo that displays such a knack for genuine chemistry.
Despite such aforementioned focuses on melancholy, Alt-Ctrl-Sleep’s material tends to shift emotional leverages in appliance to the audible atmosphere at hand. While their eponymous debut album does show a tendency for the bleaker sides of a relationship, the effect they convey is more serene than overwhelming depressing or instantaneously chaotic. Think something in the vein of Yo La Tengo, where intricately crafted ambiance and superb pop elements collide to create an effect in which emotions are conveyed with innovation and true purpose. As stated by the two members themselves, the Diacos’ formula is incredibly simple. “Our approach to writing music is easy,” they claim. “Make it simple, melodic, and dreamy.” Writing a simplistic song has been done countless of times before, but the two latter elements are where many artists trip and stumble on their way toward hopeful stylistic virtues. It is here where Alt-Ctrl-Sleep succeed the most resoundingly, even if their choice of a name somewhat eludes me. Regardless though, they remain so impressively focused on one style and approach throughout their 16-track debut album that cohesiveness is an aspect that listeners will eventually take for granted after a few listens. Though it remains distinctively lo-fi effort at heart, Alt-Ctrl-Sleep has all the elements of a very commendable debut album, from the stylistic consistencies and high rush of emotions to the superb production and captivating songwriting.
As a listener surveys the bulk of Alt-Ctrl-Sleep for the first time, they will likely notice that it is not difficult for the album to put its receiver into a trance-like state. With a delicate rush of keys swooping in over hazy synth pads and fragile percussion, additives like acoustic guitars and varying vocal melodies merely serve to supplement overlapping progressions that form to create a wistful effect. The melodies, for the most part, are by no means robust or impressively intricate, but they never remain repetitive or overwrought with aspects overly typical of dream-pop, electronica, or shoegaze; these are all genres in which Alt-Ctrl-Sleep take pride in becoming acquainted with throughout the release. The album’s opener, “Take Care”, is actually one of the most busiest on the album despite a rhythm section and key-led progression that repeat as Joe Diaco coos tenderly simplistic lines with touches of poignancy like “Take care, you are the only one. Do you want to feel your love?” As you can hear from this track alone, the duo’s charm mainly derives from their atmospheric grasp. Joe’s wife, April, makes her presence known with subtle backing vocals and heavily prevalent keys, two aspects that she shines on throughout the album in addition to drums. Joe controls most of the electronica aspects in addition to guitars and bass, with his collaborative skills also making a mark on keyboards.
A track like “Kandy” may initially catch listeners off guard with the bare usage of an acoustic guitar, but once the trickling keys kick in over the soft percussion and Joe Diaco’s vocals enter the fold, the typical stylings of Alt-Ctrl-Sleep emerge yet again. As the longest track on the album, it is quite the risk for a band of Alt-Ctrl-Sleep’s nature, as their stylistic consistencies can tend to backfire if their methodical utilizations are overstressed. As mentioned earlier with their impressive atmospheric grasp, a track like “Sleep” demonstrates their uncanny ability extremely well. Implementing a variety of choir-like backing voices under the high shrill of organs and keys, ambient minimalism is tackled with success as the duo relays a repeating key line under the beautiful orchestration of a tranquil synth pad. As the album’s concluding effort, it serves as a final lullaby that bids the listener’s state of relaxed bliss into a farewell of sorts. The prior song, “In the End”, prepared the listener for such a momentous occasion with its fusion of acoustics and electronic pop. “In the end, the only things that hurt you just pretend to go away,” Joe Diaco sings before a beautiful set of keys, a master stroke of success that is perfectly timed within the optimistic – although blissfully soothing – mindset of the song. It is songs like this where the emotions of the duo vary to create a very consuming result, very much indicative of early dream-pop greats like Cocteau Twins and Luna. It remains too early to make such comparisons, but Alt-Ctrl-Sleep are certainly on the right track with a debut album like theirs.