Take Five: Alka

Philadelphia-based Alka release their fourth album, the portentously-titled Regarding The Auguries, on October 9th through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Originally a solo IDM project of Bryan Michael, Alka is now reconfigured as a trio with visual artist Erika Tele and likeminded electronic producer Todd Steponick, a line-up familiar from their pre-lockdown live shows. 

“I think we’ve always been working towards being a more cohesive unit,” explains Bryan. “We like calling ourselves a unit – I mean, are you really a ‘band’ in the electronic music world? When I started the Alka project it was really just me and a laptop, and while I had fun with that, eventually I got bored with the process. Recording this album was really collaborative – I might start an idea; I’ll send it to Todd; he’ll send it to Erika; they’ll send it back, I’ll hear something else and we do this back and forth until we get a sound we like. It’s spontaneous, but it was done in a kind of slow motion.” 

We spoke to Bryan, Erika and Todd about some of their favourite albums and major influences. For more information on Regarding The Auguries, head to veryrecords.com

Xymox – Twist Of Shadows
Wing Records / Polydor, 1989

I can admire a band wanting to do something different. After two solid albums on 4AD, Clan Of Xymox was ready for a change. Perhaps a nod towards making their music more accessible, Twist Of Shadows’ production values are slightly different than their former releases whilst retaining the band’s signature gloomy vibe. Having dropped the ‘Clan Of’ from their moniker, switching from 4AD to Polygram, and partnering with fellow Dutch synthesist Bert Barten for songwriting and production efforts, Xymox went on to create what is quite possibly the best synthpop record of the late 80s. Decidedly less goth and more melancholic synthpop, Twist of Shadows is an underrated classic filled with beautifully dark vibes. The idea that something could be this introspective yet still synthpop is something I carry with me in our music as Alka. – Bryan

Newcleus – Space Is The Place
Sunnyview, 1985

Space Is The PlaceNewcleus’s second full-length album from 1985, following up from their first album Jam On Revenge in 1984, is soulful, melancholic, contemplative and upbeat at the same time. It brings out so much of the personality of the band, their originality and such a futuristic space narrative from the heydays of hip -hop. It’s so out of this world that it’s really a mystery as to why they are so much lesser known than their flashier hip-hop counterparts. Electro-funk took much more of an underground passage that slid beneath the louder mainstream rap and hip-hop, yet this band was creating imaginative, innovative live electronic funk! The first album Jam On Revenge, has the hit b-boy anthem ‘Jam On It’ (with an amazing video to go along), but this second album really resonates in my soul and inspired me as a person and artist. I have so much respect for this band, and am so humbled to share the airwaves with Cozmo D and his son DJ Dogtrane on Global Funk Radio. The composition, performance, writing and concept makes it a magical masterpiece – definitely one to experience. Come on and take a ride! – Erika

Coil – Horse Rotorvator
Force & Form / K.422, 1986

After hearing ‘Ostia’ in the 80s on my local college radio station and future alma mater (WKDU Drexel) I was instantly enchanted with Coil. The cascading and meandering Fairlight guitar sample sounding like it was programmed by some broken medieval robot, punctuated by haunting strings and Jhonn Balance’s melancholic delivery. “There’s honey in the hollows and the contours of the body…” It’s just perfect. I loved how it was this deeply sad song yet somehow upbeat, clocking in at 126 BPM. The entire album is genuinely a masterpiece and an enigma of its time having been recorded on a hired Fairlight and Emulator II in 1986, both extremely expensive bits of gear for English underground musicians. I guess what I pull from Coil’s influence is their diversity in sound – one moment brooding drones, the next acid house, all while never losing the mystery. – Bryan 

Julia Kent – Asperities
The Leaf Label Ltd, 2015

There is no way to put on happy music in a century like this and not feel like you’re somehow lying to yourself. More vulnerability and confrontation with the uncomfortable than anything like an escape, Julia Kent‘s cello work resonates with nuanced reflection navigating real-world hardships. Similar to the way glaciers once steadily scraped landscapes bare and carved mountains and vales, what remains is that which may have had more integrity than the friction could take. Strengths, and a handle on the centre, but at a cost. Something of this mammoth, austere process feels inherent in the enduring heart of the artist working the cello, and the strewn grey boulders of Asperities is the evidence. In early Autumn 2020, its somber story quietly commiserates, like an intricate monument to hard-earned survival left to be found by others lost and struggling in the bleak grey stretches of time. Mysterious electronics occasionally emerge and remind of only more uncertainties. Anxieties over accelerating existential threats weigh and grind. Powerlessness and atomization frustrate through a pandemic under narcissistic mismanagement. Default anxieties fester in the mix. Asperities feels like it takes in all of these things, scores a harrowing way through, and consoles as we wait to heal. – Todd

Plaid – P-brane EP
Warp, 2002

Something about Plaid‘s programming always intrigues and inspires me. It’s so intensely intricate and sonically rich but it’s the creeping melodies and chords changes that make my brain shiver with delight. It’s impossible to choose one album as their best but this particular EP was the sole reason for me to quit traditional guitar-based bands and return to my electronic roots with Alka once and for all. With shimmering almost new-age arps and delicate pads juxtaposed with complex, ever-evolving, and at times quite heavy rhythms, Plaid are at once eminently danceable and yet completely brooding and thoughtful. I challenge you to listen to the ending of ‘Coats’ and not get chills. – Bryan 

Regarding The Auguries by Alka is released October 9 2020 by VeryRecords.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

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