We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Standout Track: “Black Box,” the first single from Stranger in the Alps’ upcoming LP, Pattern Matching, which is scheduled to drop in early 2015. The solo project of Mount Pleasant resident Steve Kolowich, Stranger in the Alps delivers soft, atmospheric folk on “Black Box.” Brimming with subtle melodic shifts and hushed electronic accompaniment, the song is threaded together by ethereal guitar riffs and Kolowich’s warm vocals.
Musical Motivation: Kolowich, a tech reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, was inspired by society’s endless appetite for information—and the panic-inducing possibility of that information running dry. “We live in a time when communication is part of the atmosphere,” he says. “So, the prospect of being unable to communicate is more terrifying than ever.” This spring’s mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 left Kolowich more interested in the struggle to accept the unknown. “That’s where the song gets its most obvious reference: the black box, that technological miracle that’s designed to provide a fail-safe against scary unknowns,” he says. “That we might never find out exactly what happened inside was a deeply troubling, deeply foreign thought.”
Dream World: While penning the song’s lyrics, Kolowich aimed to express his ideas in a way that moved listeners to shape their own interpretations. “I like it when song lyrics operate like memories of dreams: urgent and vivid but not explicitly meaningful,” he says. To achieve a dreamlike vibe, he doubled-up his vocal tracks with help from D.C.-based musician/producer Louis Weeks, using layering to “create an effect that is intimate and disaffected at the same time.” But fine-tuning effects wasn’t Kolowich’s biggest creative obstacle. “The real battle is persuading people that a song is worth investigating for meaning in the first place,” he says.
Stream “Black Box” below. Stranger in the Alps plays the Black Cat on Oct. 17.