I know I've been inactive on this blog, but trust me, it's the only place in my life that I've been dormant! 2015 has been super productive so far and I've been involved in a lot of projects, (excitingly my forthcoming album "Rapologues" (release date TBA) and my new book "Water Coolers and Campfires", "The Vigilance Committee's EXIT A HERO" and I've attended and participated in several incredible concerts! One way to keep up with me daily is at my new AllOne Instagram page ( follow me @allonevoice)!!
I will post later about all the great things that have been going on but I post today to review my once-tour-mate and always-good-friend Alexa Dexa's new album "Year Of Abandon", out May 15th! ORDER IT BY CLICKING HERE! ...and I'll be performing at her record release show may 15th as well. Here is a link for info on that show: Alexa Dexa Album release show.
...YEAR OF ABANDON...
When my former tour mate Alexa Dexa asked me to review her new album, I was flattered and intimidated. This is a testament to her prowess and considerable knowledge and talent when it comes to composing and performing music. As her tour mate, I can say that she is entirely authentic and lives and breathes her art and message. Her music always comes from a genuine and curious place, both intellectually calculated and innocently/youthfully curious and whimsical.
"Year Of Abandon" is her first release since 2013's "A Bedtime Anthology". Since then she's toured the country for months at a times, been to Europe and has clearly been collecting memories, muses and adding to her questionably healthy (joke) abundant collection of odd toy instruments and knick-knacks. Year Of Abandon builds on the grand and dramatic electronic compositions featured on her 2012 release "A Symphony Of Band-Aids For The Visionary Wound" and the stripped-down mellow, pretty lullabies from "A Bedtime Anthology" and adds sounds and visions she's learned and toys she's collected.
Year Of Abandon is arguably her best offering to date. Alexa has the special and unique capability to be invitingly vulnerable with her voice while simultaneously have intimating strength and command. It is a complexity she controls deftly and appropriately, using her talent only when an idea asks it of her, never unnecessarily boastfully, yet still we are always impressed. This is probably her most beautifully mixed/mastered album (thanks to Melanie Balderas).
Here are some notes on the tracks.
This track invitingly opens the album up with one of the most straightforward approaches on the project. There's an intriguing drum pattern with her trademark bells ring out and ambient sounds that feel like you're (appropriately) in an aquarium. Over this entrancing arrangement, beautiful harmonies sing fantastic lyrics woven with nautical metaphors. "Delicate as glass, we peer through the surface to find what lies beneath" The dynamics between the energy of the verses and the chorus are arresting. Easily one of my favorite tracks.
Speed It Up (Now):
This song has a delicacy and intelligent vulnerability with a literal lyrical and musical invitation to move and swing along with it. The music goes from a slow open with with panning electronic noises and desk bells into a sparse, building a sort of slow tension in the verses until finally the chorus offers a release that beckons us to move. It is emotive and effective and in one of my favorite moments when she builds and sings "I feel it in my lungs, you're taking away my breath, my heart is going thump thump in my chest" in the prechorus you really feel it through the music and the execution of the lines when the chorus comes in on the final chorus.
This one is brooding and seems intent on unsettling us. It's a stark contrast to the prior track and it took me a minute to get accustomed to it. Her lyrics are sophisticated and emotional poetry, in this song they are committed to avian related symbols. This song is the album's first foray into depicting Alexa's adept portrayal of darkness, she creates an ominous sonic environment with a haunting array of toy recordings in the chorus and her utilization of field recordings of birds set a clear mood and topic. It solidifies her ability to remain tightly focus and committed in portraying a concept/topic or mood in her songwriting, setting obvious and effective moods and tones for the listener that we are helpless (and often delighted) to be moved by.
The Only Thing Left:
This is another favorite of mine, she opens with the lyrics"It's not too long ago, I lost my bearings, the swiftest compass couldn't set me straight" Bizarre arrangements with jarring tempo changes that recall the sputtering and lagging then winding pace of music boxes. A little more than two minutes in, we hear what sounds like a faint EKG machine. Then she sings a bridge: "It' is desolate when you wake up in prison..it is desolate when you can't wake up" and leads into a sort of overwhelming dark pile of sounds dropping off into a reflective intro singing oohs and ahhs vocal runs that feel like perhaps the passing of a soul from the prior chaos.
This is a newer and fleshed out version that we heard close out "A Bedtime Anthology" (listen to that version HERE) the juxtaposition of dark and glitchy production against the almost jovial youthful warm sounds of the toy instrumentation, desk bells, toy piano and a whole little orchestra of clinking, grinding, tapping clicking toys offers her signature arrangement. It offers one of the easiest to catch onto choruses of the album and a strong offering.
Priceless Measuring is an example of a song where there are so many subtle aspects and additions to the music, toys shifting and clanging and winding around the arrangements. The intrigue of Alexa's affinity for toy instruments means that we are always hearing something new as she hoards fascinating little objects that invites them along her little parade. She sings quietly and intensely, "hush hush baby don't cry. I'd crawl around legless before leaving you behind. Trust, trust the truth you can't hide. Not even my arms can hold the weight of your pride". This is a song so confessional, one gets the guilty feeling they're listening in on a phone conversation or reading a diary. This is an intimacy shared by only the purest and most admirably sincere artists. The closing lyrics are half sung and spoken like a slam poem among bells that feel like trickling raindrops. I have a feeling if I listen to this at a particularly reflective moment I won't help but bawl my eyes out.
This is another favorite of mine ever since I heard it live. The instrumentation and vocals are both probably the catchiest and quickest on the album. We hear the rare It has a sexy open confidence that isn't always immediately/plainly stated in Alexa's music and lyrics. "Ain't nobody looking for what I got and I know I got it....." In the chorus on the repeated line "gang" she effortlessly reaches ambitious notes that will get stuck in your head and you'll be frustrated you likely can't sing them or grasp her fluttery and ever-shifting vocal melodies. There's a key pause in the beginning of the second verse "tell me who gives a DAMN about old war stories?! So I can enlist them to listen to mine..." and it's in these subtle decisions we are reminded of her mastery as a clever and relentlessly effective and brave designer of songs.
With what sounds like cartoon western gun shots and breaking glass and shifting mechanical part sounds taking on some form of a percussive role in the foreboding and vaguely political/dystopian concepts in the song. Alexa presents what might be the peak of her experimental and literal approach to employing sounds to convey her purposes. Dramatic synths play cinematically in the background with dissonant bells. "Empty and desolated vessels for the creative to fill with visions. Or watch as cement falls into ash and earth overtakes it..." This one almost feels like a short film, there's a very visual aspect to this song and it feels like an interlude or a short vignette. She advises us to abandon ship as we lead into the last track with a final gunshot.
Atomic Bridges (For Cellular Lovers):
A sort of sci-fi duet, romantic story. "he asked me honey how'd we meet? and I said baby real sweet, I told him "wormholes through star-stuff brought me to you" Nigel Newton plays the vibraphone, speaks poetic layers underneath her in the verses and joins her in beautiful harmonies and trades lines and layers. He does a fantastic job filling the role of being the first vocal guest of her discography (When you've got a voice like Alexa's, who needs collaborators? When someone is playing a male perspective in a cosmic themed romance of course!) This is a strong closer, original, ambitious and memorable.
Overall, Year Of Abandon, while at times challenging, is an undoubtedly excellent album. I would argue is her best, as it builds upon all the strengths of her prior efforts and adds all sorts of new ideas and sounds she's come across along her daring travels. As the title suggests and the songs ring out, it seems to be a project concerned with letting go, with healing wounds or moving on in spite of them, with focusing on the flight of the nestling, with the motion of the sea, with looking out into the expanse of space, walking away from the war, liberating ourselves from bleak pasts, knowing our worth and our ability to build new and endeavoring to do so. It feels like a goodbye in a hopeful sense as we stubbornly intend on a brighter future because we deserve it. Damn right.
It's fantastically original and has great imagination that is expertly executed. Some people may be intimidated or befuddled by her sometimes haunting moods or esoteric vocals and experimental approaches but this is the kind of dense yet bare music that you feel first, and settle into and keep discovering new things to love and learn about it and from it. What feels depressing in one moment sometimes turns to shockingly bright and catchy vocal runs that you are forever stuck trying to sing. If you can, catch her live somewhere around the country and definitely support Alexa Dexa because she is 100% authentic and if you give her a chance, she will never fail to give you all of her intellectual and emotional faculties in a song or album.
Bruce "AllOne" Pandolfo
p.s. If you enjoyed this and want me to review your album...it might be a thing I'm beginning to do.. Email me at AllOneVoice@gmail.com and we can talk about it. Big things coming!