It’s easy to forget now, nearly two decades later, but as post-millennial metal drew critical attention from non-metal spaces for the first time in years—thanks to bands like Mastodon and Boris—a kind of low-key simmered between the disparate but increasingly connected worlds of indie rock and metal. This yielded an increase in accusations of “falseness” and a general sense of skepticism on the part of the latter, for perfectly understandable reasons. But on the flipside, metal had crossed anew into that scarcely attainable realm: It was, from the outside, cool. John Darnielle of Mountain Goats once described the difference between the two fanbases thusly: “Indie is a clique, not a style. Metal is more of an identity.” But it’s the voracious appetite of those indie kids, if not their commitment or lack thereof, that’s ultimately admirable. “Indie people are music fiends,” he says. “They want to hear everything.”
It’s easy to imagine Alex Peterson being exactly that type of indie kid—curious, eclectic and compelled by the almighty power of the riff. A touring member of Hovvdy and Lomelda, Peterson is guided by a darker and more intense muse with their debut album as alexalone. As much an indie rock band as a psychedelic doom outfit, alexalone sound as comfortable in a dream pop haze as they are tearing through a meaty drop-C breakdown on sophomore album and Polyvinyl debut ALEXALONEWORLD, making a highly compelling case that heaviness and haziness belong in the same space.
ALEXALONEWORLD is dense, powerful, but never hostile or even necessarily aggressive outside of a few choice moments. Rather, the eight songs here are built around a thick sonic atmosphere that seamlessly merges doom with dream pop, suggesting that the distance between the two is closer than it appears. The swirl of feedback and seasick bassline that open early standout “Where in the World” prepare the listener for an incoming rush of power and volume, but it’s temporarily a red herring. Within a minute, every element eases back into a gauzy mist, a landscape mostly comprising open space at Peterson’s back as they softly sing, “I find comfort in the little things.” In short order, those riffs come roaring in, and those little things seem that much more diminutive.
Immersion is the secret ingredient that makes everything sound and feel as powerful as it does here, but more often than not alexalone arrive upon a genuine and earned moment of catharsis. Leadoff track “Electric Sickness” is perhaps the most explicitly indie rock song here, wrapped in gorgeously mesmerizing guitar chords, but the band’s peak bliss is undercut by Sam Jordan’s surprise introduction of a blast beat. Few moments here provide as much of a giddy rush as the escalating tempo of the sludge riffs in “Unpacking My Feelings,” while the squealing solo of “Ruins” turns a slow-burner into a proper inferno. And the uncomfortably serene, Slint-like beginnings of “Black Rainbow” build the kind of tension that can and will only be resolved through cacophony.
One of the more endearing qualities that alexalone has also learned from metal is a playful sense of escape. Peterson and company employ the aesthetics of vintage video games and Dungeons and Dragons with ALEXALONEWORLD, from the 16-bit video game visual for “Ruins” to the RPG map that adorns the album’s cover art. They’re fitting appendices to what truly does feel like a self-contained world, a utopia where the hipsters and the heshers can all shred as one.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.