This year-old debut solo album from London-based Alexander Wolfe is one of those productions worthy of being dubbed solo: not only is Alexander singing his own songs, he plays most of the instruments along the way and spent a long time developing these songs into the big production numbers that they are. For the first few listens I have to say I was slightly irritated by the impression that he'd tried all his favourite musical hats on, one by one, because he couldn't bear to leave any of them behind in the dressing-up box. The opening track, for example, is called Prague Song and sounds like nothing so much as a loving recreation of late-90's Radiohead. Some arrangements seem to reach further back with hints of early 70s prog rock (I've said it before, I'll say it again - not necessarily a bad thing at all, and certainly not here) and then when the string section comes in behind his acoustic guitar you just know this fellow has listened to a lot of Nick Drake.
So, having got through that spell of working out just which musical hero was being referenced, I've come to appreciate what strong characters each of these songs have and how well developed a sense of mood there is. Alexander's high, gentle voice croons softly, close to the mic, on True Love Lies, but at other times sounds anguished and overwrought in a very Thom Yorke kind of way. The words come through but really his voice is used as another instrument - the mood it conveys is in some ways more important than the words being sung.
Ah, the words. His songs are full of strange juxtapositions and unexpanded references that make it difficult for us to really get what he's talking about. Try this, for example:
"come now, go find your door
something's moving, can't see the surface anymore
now it's gone, without a trace
now you're back here burning bridges with that look upon your face".
The specifics of the stories he's telling rather get lost in translation, but the mood of each song is unmistakeable and quite captivating at times. On 'Stuck Under September' he puts in an extraordinary vocal performance of great care, sounding like an extremely chilled and calm Rufus Wainwright.
Throughout this album there are little sections of songs that have been wrought with great care and seem to say so much; sometimes you have to stop in your tracks and pay close attention to appreciate just what is going on. There is the odd neat song with an almost recognisable pop structure but mostly this is an album of moods and moments with enough little barbs and hooks to snag your attention and then hold it.
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