With a title that conjures images of distress and confusion on an interstellar platform, Paul Alexander’s first solo foray is, surprisingly, far more serene. Amidst a soft-rock, spacey soundscape it’s the electronic elements littered throughout that help elevate arrangements to an ethereal level.
Bassist for the prog-folk outfit Midlake, Alexander spreads his wings, harnessing experimental progressions and psychedelic soundscapes ala Grizzly Bear or Elbow. Whilst achieving a rich, polished sound, it’s his proficiency tweaking a synth that has the deepest impact. It’s these sounds that help afford an energy and style to tracks depraved of density in favour of levity. Inconsistent metaphorical lyricism ultimately only adds an impenetrability to an overall soothing series of songs that fail to pack a memorable punch.
“SF” is a smooth introduction with a minimalist combination of keys and chimes that move in and out of an arrangement where Alexander’s emboldened vocals stand at the forefront. “You don’t have to think so much about it, just get back and watch,” cajoles the soloist as the pre-chorus takes us by the hand, building before settling into the hook of a sweeping chorus. Just as things close in folky fashion, so do they open on “Oblivion”. With its acoustic and shiny lead guitars shadowing Beck’s Morning Phase (2014), its chorus may come on a little grandiose for some; “Oblivion, I had your dreams, the time is short and wasted”. Tense, detuned saw synths rescue the airy recording, adding a healthy dose of grit, especially when the cut-offs open up in a dancey conclusion.
Alexander’s synth prowess proves no fluke as the tasty bit-crushed hook of “Will Not” shows. Paired with a driving rhythm imbued with more intent than on earlier tracks, it’s main four-chord progression builds momentum. However, other sections lose their way, with chords seemingly cycled through until arriving back home. Follow up “Voice” serves as an up-tempo interlude, dwarfed by the other songs – running at a mere 1:40. The short, sharp pop of energy takes off with a satisfying minor key progression in the back half that refuses to linger long enough.
A touch of funk on “Gold” makes it a clear standout on the record. Twangy lead guitar moves intricately against a descending baseline and groovy rhythm, albeit one we’ve now heard recycled several times on the album. Alexander manages to balance his creative structure with developed passages here better than ever, as verses build nicely before a potent chorus release. Doubled vocals profess an opened-ended message that retains a poignancy and beauty when everything clicks; “If you dig there’s gold, it’s all you want and more, put all it in drawers, it’s been a long haul for everyone”.
“An Eye For an I” proves another synth masterclass with droning keys that hatch into high-pitched strings. When garnished with a lead guitar hook in the chorus, the closing of Radiohead’s “A Wolf at the Door” springs to mind. Being the longest track on the record, there’s a patience in unravelling the interstellar scene; the darkness of the verse, the dynamic drum fills and powerful grand keys all paint a vivid image. This is before the final minute of overembellished, unnecessary jamming ultimately leaves such careful construction feel tied together with loose ends. This chunkiness continues into the carnival-esque sounds opening “Astropsychosis”. This loony landscape is manipulated into electronic pop that feels haphazard relative to the rest of the record. Its brass synth hook feels tacked on whilst the final build fires many shots in hope rather than precision.
Picking up the pieces is “Kuopio”, an example of Alexander’s creative progressions coming together like a narrative in and of itself. Dipping and weaving like a roller-coaster, its extensive series of chords in the chorus always move with a clear destination in mind. The uplifting acoustic ballad reaches lofty heights with a dash of lead guitar and dutiful vocal performance. Melding tender tales of death and loss, Alexander vows “before the stage of white, we have no words to say, stepping out towards the edge, this is how we’ll spend our day”. This acoustic ending to the album is upheld with “tmrw”. Initially haunting, the song shifts too frequently to take stock of each aesthetic. Alexander’s chord movements seem to leave behind tones of tenderness too rapidly, making for a variable ending that surmises the album aptly.
Astropsychosis is a debut record populated with orbital highs. Surprising turns of chords like on “Kuopio” and the satisfying hooks in “Gold” align with the bliss of soft-spoken psychedelia that Alexander strives for. Grainy, nuanced synth sounds further add a needed attitude. However, for every sweet spot hit, there’s just as many missed. Songs concluding with aimless jamming, derivative drumming rhythms and indecipherably metaphorical lyrics hamper a beautiful album from being a memorable one.