The band Altaic doesn't have anything to do with its namesake -- a macro-family of Central Asian languages including Turkish, Mongolian and Korean. But one can imagine riding horseback over windswept steppes or snow-blown tundra while listening to the band's "Tsar Bomba," a nine-minute track reminiscent of the droning, guitar-based intensity of melancholic-tinged indie bands from the late '80s, such as Sonic Youth, Savage Republic and Nice Strong Arm.
"Tsar Bomba" is the closing track of Oceans Down You'll Lie, the six-song debut by Altaic. The band consists of drummer Jon Feinberg, guitarist Eric Arnold (briefly in Projekt Records shoegazers Lowsunday) and bassist Chris Moore (a transplant from Virginia Tech). But the track's textural density is also a link to the band's earlier years as a quartet, with second guitarist James Harvey.
"When we had four people, we did more of the sprawling, instrumental stuff in a post-rock vein," recalls Feinberg. "A couple songs on the album are holdovers from that initial incarnation. Since we pared it down to the power-trio format, we've had to write more cleanly and concisely, so we've become better songwriters."
The shorter songs at the start of the album focus on softish vocals and mathy guitar lines which occasionally explode into walls of distorted fury, similar to Slint, Polvo or a little-known band called Helms Alee, which Altaic admires. ("They're a Seattle band on the Hydrahead label -- the main guy was in These Arms Are Snakes," explains Feinberg.)
Even with the lineup changes and shorter songs, don't worry about these guys becoming too saccharine and iPod-ready anytime soon. "We're still committed to the same kind of darker tonalities we've always been doing," says Feinberg, "and that continues to show up in the way we write, which is a collaborative result of jamming that gets processed down, compressed and tightened up. I don't think even in the more structured songs there's anything approaching a strong pop sensibility."
Altaic CD-release with Allies and German Shepherd. 9:30 p.m. Fri., Jan. 15. Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. $5. 412-431-4668 or www.smiling-moose.com