Monday, 13 February 2017

Joe Levi - Becoming The Alien - Album Review [13th February 2017]

[2017.02.13] Tom Hollingworth

A few moons back, you would find Joe Levi strutting through the streets of Manchester, making vibrations in venues with The Jungfraus, but upon a visit to California in the summer of 2013, he fell in love and before long, he was transported to a life in LA, to marry Kristina Drager, and perform with her in a new five-piece group, The Village Fate. Approximately a year ago, following an accident where he severely hurt his chest, back and arms, Levi was bound to his apartment in Los Feliz to recover. During this time, he started working on a solo record that would eventually form this release, Becoming The Alien, the follow up to 2011’s The Friends & The Family

    This set of six songs can be interpreted through the lens of a character exploring feelings of adaptation, a fantastical imagination perhaps of what Levi has recently experienced. The eeriness and wonder of Becoming The Alien [Album] seems to sonically reflect a flower, nurtured in the soil of Albion, now exposed to West Coast sunshine. 

    The physical constraints Levi had to deal with from his accident informed these new songs massively. Forced to spend a considerable amount of time at home as his body mended, his creativity was directed to more solo compositions away from the band, and with an injured hand, the piano and keyboards in the living room offered the most support, quickly becoming the central instruments for his songwriting over this period. Further instrumentation was employed to colour the recordings as his body healed. 

    The life of the album emerges and exits by the sound of an S.O.S., framed as a message in a bottle, washed up on the listener’s shore. The piano with faded tuning puts us immediately on uncanny ground before Levi’s ever-rich baritone reaches out to us, firm but vulnerable. With a reduced ensemble, the changes in the linear forms of these songs are more exaggerated and Levi takes joy in bold juxtapositions. With Becoming The Alien [Album], Levi also celebrates Musical Theatre-style pomp in his melodies and cadences which is a new sensibility not present on previous recording. Six Thousand Miles embodies a princely spirit as its synthesised strings chop, like a horse galloping, a companion from the old country. The rhythms throughout the record are tastefully left in the arms of the tuned-percussion instruments already employed (except for a charming primitive synth click-pattern on the final track). Glockenspiels regularly glisten on top of the rumble of piano chords. The closing song, Pieces Of Me, brings the album’s melancholy and triumph to an excruciating climax, with the repeating chorus progressions soaked in the memories of an emotionally exhausting journey. As the final pulsing bass note chimes, and the music fades, you are left with the echoes of the record’s tenderness.    

    This is Levi’s most confident vision to date, incorporating various musical styles with a deft touch, alongside lyrics that are not afraid to explore sensitive confessions, without sacrificing present carefree colour. Though certain melodic phrasing is not dissimilar to formative work, it is the flamboyance and ease with which he organises his ideas now to imagine these richer, more complex songs, that attests a growth in his prowess. Life’s attempts to throw him off-balance have only shown his capacity to find bolder ways in which to respond and create. It is this quality that makes him one of the legitimate rock ’n’ rollers.

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