The latest release from singer-songwriter Alex Southey is a record with an environment of its own.
My Nights On the Island emerges from the discontent of finding oneself in the throes of late-stage capitalism. When the pandemic was testing all of our convictions, Alex Southey turned inward. He describes the making of his latest EP as “an indulgence of likes […] an EP 17-year-old Alex Southey would’ve wanted to hear.”
The aptly titled opener “The Gods Are Fighting” begins with a low and slow setting of the stage before launching into an orchestral lament: “I say goodnight how I wanna say / And you don’t dream anymore / Of cooking in the house on fire / But it’s our fire, our fire, our fire, our fire.” A moody tribute to failed love, “Evergreen” features sustained vocals and delayed instrumental effects, embodying the push-and-pull energy of the EP as a whole.
“Mellotron And Juliet” is, to me, the nexus of the project, where all these stylistic choices converge and your ears start to recognize that you’ve left one reality behind for another. You find yourself in a moving landscape with a time-space continuum of its own, with the influences of hiphop and Coldplay slow-motion battling in the sky. “I indulged the 17-year-old Pink Floyd and Radiohead fan in me,” Southey says, “At the same time, I was glued to Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix. So all that came together to mix beats, with my acoustic romantic stuff, with [Pink] Floyd weirdness, with bird sounds… and it became this weird thing that is My Nights On the Island.”
Breaking the type-cast boundaries of what a folk singer-songwriter is capable of, his latest work is the product of an artist willing and able to take on the recording and mixing as well as the world-making roles to produce a record with an environment of its own. “‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’ is “kind of a send-up of the manipulation Instagram makes us do…” Southey notes “…for Patreon, for money, for whatever.” The drippy drumbeat and distant laughter resemble a live stadium, hinting at the showmanship artists must assume in order to reach larger audiences successfully. The instrumentals are arranged to mimic the public sphere, while the lyrics denote the sacrifice of creating something deeply personal for the insatiable industry: “I’ve got a heart of gold that you’ll pay to see.” My Nights On the Island is a maturation of long-lasting whims. The layering of atmospheric tracks on closer “There’s Anneko, Down The Fire Escape” suggests a process of arranging that Southey notes, “is a lot like scoring something that doesn’t exist”. To me, it sounds like surrendering to bigger things.