Alpha Stargazing

Bristol duo Alpha (Andy Jenks and Corin Dingley) were left stranded when their pals Massive Attack scaled back their Melankolic label, but in keeping with the times, they’ve hooked up with smaller independent labels for their third album, including Canada’s Nettwerk, who is releasing Stargazing in a special extended edition with bonus tracks. Much revered in the mid-’90s by Brit peers like Bowie, Radiohead, and Pulp, Alpha was doing the smooth down-tempo thing long before chill-out compilations became a ubiquitous hipster accessory. On Stargazing, Alpha polish ’60s cinema sounds (Bacharach, Lee Hazlewood) to a softly glowing widescreen sheen. The duo share similarities with equally dreamy outfit Microbunny, including the use of otherworldly guest vocalists (Alpha regular Wendy Stubbs is the best of the lot, cooing sweetly over the lovely "Once Round Town”) and refashioning bits of songs into completely new tracks (here the outro of "Roy” is looped into "Lipstick from the Asylum”). The lush melodies are fleshed out by piano (most sublimely on the keys-and-beats "As Far As You Can”) and strings for a near-orchestral feel. Those disappointed with Zero 7’s recent sophomore snore should give Stargazing a spin instead. (Nettwerk)