In a mellow effort brimming with shades of his previous solo work, Alexis Taylor has taken a step further into his own world of alternative pop. Moving further and further away from his most well-known output of music, British dance-pop lords Hot Chip, he incorporates the sombre and subtle moods of disparate piano, dynamic drum beats and bouncy synth pops into a rather unsettling, though thoughtful, record. It is certainly an interesting development in style for those who are interested, however first timers here may find themselves losing patience in attempts to get all the way through what is a reasonably intriguing but ultimately unremarkable collection of songs.
The title track, dropped earlier this year as the album’s first single, perhaps most closely resembles the kind of dance floor-worthy tunes Taylor has been known for previously, albeit without a forceful, catchy bass line to anchor it in the minds and hearts of listeners. It enters with a busy beat that continues on unchanged throughout the song, with an underscoring of electric piano and a lofty section of synth strings giving it an early 2000s dance vibe. This track is one of a few, including the later entries “Suspicious of Me” and “Oh Baby”, that belong to the more upbeat side of the album. An argument could be made for some track arrangement changes, being that these harder-hitting songs seem to be placed side by side with forlorn piano ballads, of which the majority of the rest of the record consists. Not to say that shifting dynamics aren’t an engaging and often highly desirous trait among albums, however the harsh attack of the instrumentation in the more buoyant stages such as the intro of “Oh Baby”, in a manner not dissimilar to David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”, do not mesh particularly cohesively with the achingly slow melancholy of “A Hit Song”.
Opener “Dreaming Another Life” comes bobbing in with a muffled, bass-heavy drum beat accompanied by some obscure instrumentation resembling muted guitar string scratches, wispy synth swells and miscellaneous delayed percussion hits. Taylor intrigues with the opening lyrics “I’m dreaming another life… won’t you meet me out of your head, and out of the clouds that we leave behind,” suggesting that, along with the changing musical style he’s exploring through this record, he may be shifting into a new phase of life. The abrasive drum-centric rhythm eventually gives way to a softer piano-based groove and eventually closes out amidst a subtle funky bass line and various eclectic sounds making this first tune one of the more inviting of the bunch. “Deep Cut” entices nicely, a rather slow and sexy cadence consisting of reverb-drenched drums and a foundation of smooth piano laying the base for the best lyrics on the album: “Make something you can feel,” he encourages, “don’t get caught up in what’s not real.” For the slow-groovers, this one will certainly be a stand out.
“Roll On Blank Tapes” is the album at its oddest, with a barely-audible piano melody buried in effects-saturated percussion and other random noises. Lyrically decrying the making of home tapes and announcing the soulless nature of drum machines, it’s confusing to say the least and not at all sonically pleasurable – five minutes being a couple too many to let this one linger. Rolling out of that strange, gloomy headspace and seamlessly into the opening phrase of “Suspicious of Me” is a strange merging but admittedly quite impressively done. Bustling along with energetic drums and bubbly electric piano rolls, it brings a welcome injection of gaiety but again, it moves directly into “A Hit Song”, unmistakably the most dreary song on the record which leaves one with the same feeling that this album, while containing some quality songs, does not work together as a cohesive collection.
Into the tail end, we encounter the stripped back and stark “There’s Nothing to Hide”. Floating on a bed of persistently wispy synth and bell-like piano notes, it carries on for over six minutes with little change in activity. Interspersed guitar chords provide a little textural weight but not quite enough to keep you interested for the full length. “I Feel You”, the stand out of the second half, comes next and here we get a glimpse of Taylor’s soft-hearted sensitivity in a more traditional format. Building slowly in the beginning from simple piano chords and layered vocals in a major key up into an almost reggae infused minor key groove, it’s the album at its grooviest and catchiest. The song closes out with some gritty guitar noodling, Taylor all the while assuring that he feels us. Album closer “Out of Time” is another slow burner, dripping with emotion as the mournful piano delicately tip toes beneath the most intimate lyrics of the record. “When I feel a little more lost than I thought I could be, I try to open my eyes and let the tears find me,” Taylor confesses. It is a raw end to a fragmented, introspective album.
Beautiful Thing is one of those records that, while not particularly terrible nor overly wonderful, does not quite leave a lasting impression that would encourage repeat listens. While there is not much about it that is game-changing or infectious, it will be popular among those who enjoy their quiet contemplation with a tinge of melancholy. Aside from all that, Alexis Taylor is a celebrated artist and this album, while not his best, will stand as a beacon for those who value an artist’s ability and fundamental right to create the very music that pours from their soul. For being true to that, Taylor should be commended.