Al_x is the project of Alex Dunford, an electronic producer from Liverpool. This is his debut record, and he has help from several singers. I think. It seems like there are several voices here, so either Mr. Dunford is a genius on par with Mel Blanc for making his voice sound different, or there are a gaggle of singers he collaborated with that the press company just did not see fit to inform me of. I am betting the latter.
Mr. Dunford must be trained as a pianist, since it is the piano that drives the music here. Often it is disguised as some type of keyboard, and usually it is layered with synths and strings and various voices, but still, there, in the background is the piano. It shines through fully at only a few times, but i think that is intentional. The press materials stressed that Dunford is a "producer", meaning, to me, that he really put a lot of thought into the layering of the sounds here. And i think he really did a fine job.
The record kicks off appropriate enough with Intro, a nice ambient upswell to start the album. Then he launches into it with Here Before the centerpiece of which is a female vocalist, who has a high-pitched girly voice, like Alison Shaw from The Cranes. The music grows until it achieves a nice density, with layers of synths almost swamping her voice, before fading out to an outro of strings. Very lovely.
Bloom takes some mid-tempoed beats and the fast tremoloed guitar from a Lights Out Asia record, and adds in layers of strings and keyboards. There is one point that is gorgeous -- the guitars are whirring so fast they create a faint ambient blur and Dunford adds in a tinkling keyboard bit. Very nice. The general Tortoise-ness carries on in our fourth track, Lose You, which features our second vocalist. I think. It is another female voice, but she sounds a little higher pitched and more human as opposed to that Alison Shaw little girl/pixie squeal. Under this, there are some spacey electro sounds, a deep bass beat, and loud strings. This song gets loud and fun, like Tortoise remixed by late era Underworld.
Dunford gives us an intermission next, the two and a half minute L.A.G., which is just him on piano. One hand tinkles lightly at the higher end while the other keeps a thunking beat. This is decent, but Dunford is no Keith Jarrett.
The next two songs are, to be honest, kind of generic for what Dunford is doing. Prize seems to bring in a different make voice, one that i think it better suited to his style. The song, though, is a bland mélange of subtle beats and keyboard washes. Trip-hop by the numbers. What Is To Be Done is practically the same song. The male voice is clearer on Failed, and Dunford pairs it with lush M83 keys and a fast beat. A welcome break from the trip hop of the previous two songs.
Roadkill starts with whirring guitar and piano. This is a really pretty song, with layers of strings and a higher pitched male voice singing delicately. The vocalist is higher pitched than the other male singers (or is it the same guy in falsetto? It doesn't sound like it... damn this lack of liner notes!) and sings with a lot of natural tremolo. At times, he is almost subsumed by the deep layers of strings, which is a nice effect.
On Righteous Path there is a different male voice, and it sounds like John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants trying to sing soul music. That is not actually as awful as you would think, but it is kind of a whiny voice. There is a deep bass riff and some strings here as well. Basically it is Roadkill part two and with a different vice, but then about half way through the keyboards swell up to overtake the strings, the beat speeds up, and the song becomes an electro dance tune a la The Faint. It's a weird transition, but i kind of like it. The Faint-ish dark electro vibe carries over in Honey Trap. A different male voice again, i think, this one in the mid range, a little deeper than the previous vocalist. It gets rather loud, with deeply throbbing keys over layers of piano-like tinkling. This works pretty well.
But the female voice is back on If I Did which is the album closer. Here, she is echoed all to hell and back, fuzzed out and layered over a piano. Eventually, a tinkling song sample comes in, like a sample from a Christmas carol -- a xylophone tinkling and almost bell-like chiming. This is a sort of weird fusion of Lamb and Dead Can Dance, but, again, Dunford somehow makes it work.
Now that is the last song on the album, but the press download came with a "Bonus Track". In the era of digital music, i am not sure what the term "bonus track" means, but whatever. The song is called Hymn For Moya / If There Is A Light and is mostly piano, faint beats, and a vocal sample buried deeply, all echoed and faint. Eventually he layers in some synth chorus, making it even moodier. This song works better as an album closer than If I Did in the sense that it is an ambient fade out, the natural counterpoint to the Intro.
Overall, i have to say that i enjoy most of this record. It gets a little dull in the middle, and i do wish for some kind of liner notes to explain what the heck was happening with the vocals. However, if you like electro pop, then this is a pretty fine choice.