For the purposes of this introductory paragraph, it would have been preferable to have tracked down this split single from two previously unheard, geographically disparate bands through mysterious and/or serendipitous means, but the reality is simple. Jon Solomon played “The Low Flags” from the Raleigh-based Alpha Cop on his Wednesday night WPRB show a month back and, in a possible instance of baiting an audience member, compared its arrangement to Juno. The instrumental outro’s delicate dynamics certainly caught my ear the first time around, but a comparison to Juno guarantees a second. Negative Fun Records BandCamp page bookmarked, vinyl ordered.
The single’s a-side comes from Windsor, Vermont’s Carton, a post-hardcore band with no shortage of riffs. “Fingertips” flips between Drive Like Jehu snarl and Rye Coalition swagger, occasionally adding effect-laden guitar to the proceedings. There are a few points during the song’s nearly five-minute runtime when the supply of rotating guitar parts feels more like a surplus, but the song’s headlong forward momentum makes up for any editorial slippage. “Fingertips” provides more than enough incentive to check out the six-song Sunburst EP, recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Chelsea Light Moving, Speedy Ortiz).
My memory had focused on the final segment of “The Low Flags,” but revisiting it opened my eyes to Alpha Cop’s range. Starting off like the late ’90s emo band of a lost Kinsella brother, the song quickly shifts gears with a quiet transition, gains intensity with a swell of layered guitars, blows off steam with some Hoover-esque post-hardcore, then settles into its graceful, violin-accompanied outro. Those last two minutes are superb, but “The Low Flags” wouldn’t have the same resonance without the build-and-release of its first half.
Continuing the recent, completely welcome trend of digital-only bonus tracks for vinyl releases, the download includes Alpha Cop’s “Point by Point (Instrumental),” six minutes of saxophone-accompanied, meditative post-rock. If “The Low Flags” briefly recalls Hoover, “Point by Point” references the dub instrumentals and horn parts of Fred Erskine’s later bands, like The Boom and June of 44’s last few releases. And yes, Juno’s command of arrangements and atmosphere is in the mix, too. Alpha Cop has a handful of name-your-price releases on BandCamp, including a vocal take of “Point by Point,” but it’s most tempting to lose myself in the fifteen-minute collage of the I’m Going Down with This Ship and Others EP.
Pairing the immediate aggression of Carton with the dynamic arcs of Alpha Cop makes for a satisfying combination, and I’ll keep my eye out for future releases from each band as I catch up on their respective catalogs. But Alpha Cop’s two songs here offer a tantalizing array of directions that a full-length could take with their sound—plaintive emo, cathartic post-hardcore, textural drones, saxophone-and-violin-accompanied post-rock—and, more importantly, the capacity to properly integrate these styles.