It must be three years since Alexander Wolfe’s debut release, Morning Brings A Flood, earned him strongly favourable reviews right across the music press. This new album appears ahead of the intended follow-up, the material having intruded on the process of getting that one together. A period of disturbed nights and vivid dreams produced these atmospheric songs full of startling imagery – he reckons he was writing about the break-up of a relationship before it had actually happened, and certainly there’s a couple of songs where you can pick up on that quite directly. However, as on his debut album, he’s more interested in putting the raw imagery into song than in explaining it. It’s perhaps telling that he covers Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, another song that’s strong on imagery but short on explanation. It’s a hugely popular song, of course, and perhaps it speaks very directly to Alexander Wolfe.
As introspective singer songwriters who’ve been listening to a lot of Nick Drake go, this man has a fine way of making very beautiful music that does some of his talking for him. Time and again, a line that on the page is deeply ambiguous becomes clarified by the way in which he sings it, or the tone of the arrangement at that point. It’s difficult to tell sometimes whether the lyrics spring from dreams, reflection or derangement, but the performance gives plenty of help on that front. As on his debut album, enormous care has been taken over the arrangements; built up from acoustic guitar and piano (lots of sombre chords in the bass register), they feature strings, horns and some eerie sounds that could be acoustic or could be from a synthesiser. The point is that everything is meshed with great subtlety and beauty. There might be a lot of darkness in here, but there’s nothing harsh or jarring. It’s hard to believe that the whole thing was put together in just a few days recording, given the considered beauty that has been wrought here. The string section, in particular, makes a particularly lovely contribution that seems to have a clear understanding of what each song is seeking to express.
Though a sombre beauty pervades the work taken as a whole, there are moments when the sun bursts through the clouds and an exquisite joy, or maybe a memory of joy, brings a warm happy feeling. When Alexander sings the refrain of Skeletons in his high and beautifully plaintive voice, it’s a very special moment. “She’s always on my mind” he sings, and his treatment of that one phrase should be enough to lodge him securely in the consciousness of anyone who gets to hear this album.
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