Other Paths, the new self-released 5-track EP by Alex Seel, finds the singer/songwriter and guitarist honing his distinctive sound and finding a harder edge, both musically and lyrically. The more bucolic sound of 2013’s Shifting Sands has been upgraded to startlingly good effect. How much of this new-found abrasiveness is the result of Alex’s relocation from Ireland to the mean streets of London is open to debate, but if the social conscience and commentary displayed in his lyrics is any kind of guide then I’d say it’s definitely been a factor: the move has clearly paid dividends across the board in terms of his creative output.
Lead single and opening track ‘Oh The Glamour’ showcases Alex’s re-energised sound in one of the EP’s highlights; it’s an uptempo, rolling major key song with some nicely juxtaposed almost-dissonant guitar fills over Sam Winwood’s ticking, clattering drums. Lyrically it’s a neatly-observed cautionary tale of an unnamed film star who, having attained the fame she craved, finds it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
‘Distant Echoes’ is a more introspective affair with Alex’s intricate fingerstyle guitar meshing with some nicely understated drumming. His use of multitracking for the song’s harmonies is particularly striking; lushly layered voices swoop and swirl and it’s a great reminder both of what a fine voice he has and how accomplished a lyricist he is, in this tale of resilience in the face of self-doubt.
Alex revisits his earlier, pastoral sound in ‘Weight Of Dust’, the EP’s one track where no additional musicians appear. Over a deceptively simple fingerstyle acoustic guitar, spiralling endlessly around, the lyric paints a poignant and sensitive word picture of an older man, wide awake in the small hours of the night with only his fears for the future and memories of the past for company and for comfort.
‘Virtual Grief’ is a sardonic look at the way social media has changed the ways in which we interact and the apparent superficiality enabled by new technology. It’s an idea worthy of exploration and the show-and-tell lyrics are easily the match of 10cc or Steely Dan at their acerbic best. Alex overdubs a reggae-tinged electric guitar behind his fingerstyle acoustic while Bradley Burgess adds some subterranean bass rumbles, but again its Alex’s knack for multitracked harmonies that really shines.
The EP closes with another highlight, the bleakly majestic ‘Hollowed Man’ which (I think) references T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem The Hollow Men; although where Eliot’s main concern was Europe after the First World War, Alex’s lyric focuses on the after-effects of war on one soldier. It’s a powerful and disturbing anti-war song with an arrangement which is by turns sombre and emotive. Sam Winwood’s drums rise and fall over the bass as Alex’s echoey, distorted powerchords drop like artillery fire before the smoke clears in the coda and the last notes fragment and fall apart into a squall of feedback and delay.
Alex Seel’s Other Paths EP is a hugely impressive musical calling card, with each of its five songs showcasing a different side of this multi-talented musician’s skills. For me, his ear for harmonies and his subtlety as a lyricist are revelatory and it’s to be hoped that a full-length album follows before too long: he clearly has a massive amount of potential which deserves to be tapped and brought to a larger audience sooner rather than later.
Review by: Helen Gregory
For details of Alex’s upcoming live dates click here.