There was a definable golden age of pop music. It was a time when bands were glamorous and their tunes were achingly beautiful, untainted by urban affectations or cartoon-like keyboard riffs. But some acts can still break the mould – striving to place a little more glamour into all they do. Step forward Alpines, a South London duo placing powerful vocals over sublime keyboard layers. “We’re quite different people, I think,” says singer, Catherine Pockson. “Bob has such an innate ability to work with, produce and make our songs sound amazing, while I’m focused on writing songs. We really compliment each other in that way.” Everything about this band is cool, from their music to the way they present themselves. Together with producer and programmer Bob Matthews, this ethereal double act pre-empted Britain’s growing love for late-night soul music by several years. The release of their ethereal and melodramatic debut Oasis brought them praise from critics, fans and peers including The Maccabees and Florence Welch and The xx.
Since that release they’ve elected to forge a more stripped back sound, which perfectly platforms the beauty of Pockson’s voice and the attention to detail across their music. “We wanted to take things away rather than add stuff,” say Matthews. “On the first record, It felt like we were kind of throwing too much at the songs. So, we’ve been trying to make sure there was really good song which drew from a smaller palette.” This new attitude now shines through on their most recent album, Another River. You’ve never heard music with minimalist leanings conceal so much within its layers. Crammed with soaring harmonics and captivating basslines, there’s a maturity demonstrated in this simplistic approach. “It’s quite a personal album,” says Pockson. “Many of the songs come from experiences I was having. It’s been a period for me of learning and healing, and facing up to some things, so the writing is very honest.” If there was proof it’s possible to write hooks and entrancing lyrics without them sounding brash, then here it is. Released last year, this album is a luscious slab of emotion-laden R&B, full of subtle flourishes and thoughtful experimentation.
The duo’s journey began in 2011. “We met at a friend’s wedding in Bristol,” Pockson tells me. “Both of us were working on lots of different projects at the time. I was doing solo work by myself, as a singer-songwriter with a piano, and Bob was in a band. He had some great ideas and we had good chemistry together.” Quickly they set about making music that’s slightly different, believing it’s important to stay interesting and fresh.
Pockson started in music when she was 11. Later she’d study Fashion and History of Art at college, before completely losing herself to music. There remains an enchantment with the fashion world. They’ve enjoyed collaborations with some of the industry’s biggest names – including AllSaints, Paul Smith, Urban Outfitters and legendary photographer Rankin. The influences of this world flow into how they present themselves as well. The invention crosses over from the melodies to their styling. Any of the pair’s promo images or record sleeves could pass for spreads in the glossiest fashion bibles.
Beneath all this subtlety and nocturnal smoothness, there’s a distinct sense they could as easily write a full-on, crass pop album if they really had to. “I’d love to do that. I’ve been writing a few songs for other people,” says Pockson. It turns out some of her personal music tastes lie in a more classical pop vein. She mentions Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Rihanna and Beyonce, while Matthews professes admiration for more atmospheric writers, like Talk Talk and Brian Eno. “We did have to reject a few of Catherine’s songs for this album because they were a bit too cheesy,” Matthews concedes. But it is this broad selection of influences that so perfectly coalesces in what Alpines do.
Now the pair are heading out on the road, which will include a trip to Brighton’s The Prince Albert on Weds 22 Feb. “It’s nice to play somewhere that’s intimate, so you can have the connection with the fans,” Pockson says. “Musically it’ll be quite grandiose, but uplifting as well. We’re just really looking forward to playing for new people and meeting new people.” “It’s our first proper tour as well,” chips in Matthews. “So obviously, we’re excited by that. We’ve always want to create an impressive live show.”