Petter Ericson Stakee and Terry Wolfers met in a London pub several years ago and developed a friendship based on their shared love of American folk and country music. The two eventually began writing and recording together, and inevitably they moved to America—Brooklyn, in fact. It’d be easy to view the music they record as Alberta Cross as a mix of geographically identifiable influences, but perhaps not in the obvious ways. On their second full-length album, Songs of Patience, they still sound like a UK band trying to master an American idiom: Alberta Cross sets its sites on My Morning Jacket, but they end up somewhere closer to Gomez, albeit with a bit more crunch and groove.
The music can be surprisingly inventive, often taking off in surprising directions. “Crate of Gold” lurches with a heavy stomp and a slash-and-burn guitar riff, but ultimately it’s in service to a non-hook that makes the song sound shapeless. Stakee’s guitar slices around opener “Magnolia” but the song veers toward easy, hokey uplift. The problem is that Alberta Cross isn’t creative enough to define transcendence as anything other than a sweeping chorus and mewling vocals that show more familiarity with ‘90s Britrock than ‘30s American folk.
On some level, Alberta Cross are trying to summon up what Greil Marcus called “the old weird America,” but they sound too new and normal. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s hard for these songs to breathe—to convey any insight or measured dynamic—when Stakee sings every line with the same top-of-the-mountain breathlessness. As a result, the songs can’t build or crescendo, can’t do anything but insist on their own meaningfulness. Their reach so far exceeds their grasp that all we can hear is the rift between their ambitions and their abilities. Theirs is only an arms’ length understanding of the music they profess to love. It’s no wonder they ended up in Brooklyn instead of soldiering on even deeper into America.