There are moments throughout Christian Alexander’s album summer’ 17 that should offer the opportunity to pause, reflect, and measure the next step. However, this bedroom-recorded album, produced over the span of a couple of weeks when the artist was “…feeling low” appears as close to an unedited first-draft as any artist dares share with a producer, let alone an audience. There is no pause, there is no taking-stock; there is just all this stuff, all these feelings. At times it’s too much.
Christian Alexander sustains the momentum of life and death, and he articulates the troughs of existence well. He manages to expose his inner workings without wallowing in self-pity. He avoids the familiar emotional manipulations. The message when confronting heartbreak, the passing of friends and friendships is ‘this just is’. Sounding nothing like Elliot Smith, he infuses each scene with a strikingly similar weariness. We are simply getting through each episode of existence. Together, alone.
The authenticity of tone is delivered with a ‘hiss-and-all’ production technique. This album doesn’t sound shit because it was recorded on a shoebox. The timbre is improved exactly because it was recorded on a shoebox. This beguiling distance between the purity of emotion, and the capturing of a song is deeply effecting. There is a space between all things, even at their most intimate points of connection.
It’s in the mix that Christian Alexander drives his message. In the very brief album notes he simply states ‘Credit: My guitar’ and if you read this without playing the songs you’d be forgiven for thinking that summer ’17 was a white-boy-with-acoustic-guitar’ album. summer ’17 is not a white-boy-with-acoustic-guitar album. However, the artist does channel substantial poetic content through the structure of a song. Instruments carry weight when words cannot. Yes, this is the point of all songs through the history of songwriting, and certainly Alexander hasn’t invented anything here. But by mixing the hiss of a crappy home-studio into the swell of a synthesized string section he shows the beauty to be found in the limits of process; because of sadness, and exactly because of the solitary experience.
Despite the unrelenting melancholia that permeates every aspect of this album Christian Alexander doesn’t paint himself into a corner. This isn’t a one-tone collection. There is enquiry too. Redemption comes from the artist’s seeking beyond himself. It’s true that this is a very self-aware album, and at times the progress is claustrophobic; overwhelmingly close to intuitive workings out. Beyond the beauty of arrangements, or Alexander’s unpretentious ability to make poetry from the mundane, we are offered glimpses of another sky. Closing track ‘Tell me it’s alright’ breaks the fourth wall, as the artist addresses the audience. Clarity is issued via multi-tracked vocal harmonies, a spaced out guitar – softened with reverb and distortion, and a melodic phrase searches the sky.
It’s in his acknowledgement of audience, or at least the process of conveying loneliness to someone other than himself, that the artist celebrates something deeper than pain. In his desire to find something that’s alright he finds something that’s alright – and it’s through that desire that alchemy occurs. Drawing from pain as the source, and in tagging that pain with a time stamp; summer ’17, Christian Alexander shows how suffering has informed perspective, but that there are other beautiful qualities to life.
summer ’17 is a quietly remarkable album that should be celebrated for the possibilities that it represents – not just for Christian Alexander, who has opened himself to an audience that will demand further updates, but also for artists who require a point of reference when it comes to guarding authenticity. Here it is.
HURRY – BUY – CHRISTIAN ALEXANDER MUSIC