Alex Calder: Strange Dreams, Familiar Songs

unnamedWith a title like Strange Dreams, Alex Calder isn’t shying away from the dream pop associations that come to mind on his debut LP from Brooklyn imprint Captured Tracks.

Calder shares 11 songs that sound familiar in one sense, shoegaze-wise, but in another sense because they are songs that could have been heard on his Bandcamp page last summer. The album is not there anymore, but the reviews from that time are easily searchable through Google. So, it’s a familiar record. It’s also a sound Captured Tracks would put out, and not just because Calder’s former bandmate, Mac DeMarco, put the label onto his solo project. Label founder Mike Sniper has a taste for lo-fi music that features interesting textures interacting with interesting songwriting choices, a consistent aesthetic from Dum Dum Girls all the way to Juan Wauters. Sniper once memorably said in an interview that one horrible thing about music nowadays is that decisions about bands and albums are made within seconds of listening to a song. Strange Dreams might not be a conscious product of Sniper’s sentiment, but it’s an album whose magic cannot be pinned down in a thirty-second preview.

“Retract”, “No Device”, “Memory Resolve” – Calder’s titles bear a passing resemblance to those of MFA workshops. His word choice is clean and minimalistic, very evocative of the interior life and its accompanying moods. “Retract” opens Strange Dreams up to the richness of moods Calder conjures and sustains throughout the tracks, and it’s one of the things he does best. Somewhat surf and blues, “Retracts” draws the listener in with its layers of drowsy reverb. “No Device” touches on a psychedelic state of mind with its warm guitar notes. Time slows to a halt on these songs, and it’s enjoyable to be immersed in the spaces of arrested development Calder constructs. Transporting the listener to a solitary land of navel-gazing exercises, where there is no focus in particular, but zen pervades, it’s simple to sink under its influence.

At other times, moments are peculiar and lighthearted – ones of a rambunctious daydreamer. “Strange Dreams” is fun, and although Calder is not known for being the strongest vocalist, his androgynous sighing melts in well with the guitar riff. “Lola” is equally mesmerizing as a first-rate love song. What are its parts? Calder chants a name, and a gentle, soft guitar is heard over noise that fades in and out. “Lola” is sublime, and tender, proving how much atmosphere Calder is capable of building upon from one engaging riff. “Life Purpose” featuring Caitlin Loney is also a melody made stronger by a more pervasive presence in vocals. Most of the lyrics cannot be distinguished beyond phrases articulated here and there, but the sound of a voice is still a nice asset.

Calder’s 2013 Time EP introduced listeners to his version of slacker pop, and it was never downbeat but always suggestive, just about to go somewhere… Strange Dreams includes darker, perhaps passive-aggressive elements that are not obvious on Time. Discordant and quarrelsome, “Out of My Head” and “Marcel” are musings of a different nature.

Strange Dreams is an ideal record for a day devoted to doing nothing.