Harley Alexander 
Universal Love 2 

Easy Freaker Records, Good Buddy Records • 2022

Harley Alexander’s Universal Love 2 is the friend you haven’t seen in years.

For roughly half of my 20s, I was somewhat untethered, living in South Korea for two years, going to Edmonton for school, and finally moving to Vancouver to start my career. It was difficult making lasting connections, but now that I’m hopefully in one place for the long haul, I am beginning to feel the pull of universal love, as Harley Alexander (he/they) has been singing about for nearly a decade. It’s a feeling of being part of a community that supports everyone, wherever that community may be. 

Alexander has literally moved all around the country — from the Maritimes to his current home in beautiful, remote Powell River, BC — and seems to have experienced a lifetime’s worth of friendships, joyous moments, and grief. All are a part of the river of universal love (Alexander explicitly describes this spiritual force as a river more than once throughout Universal Love 2), and the whole album feels like a warm hug. That’s always been Alexander’s vibe, even with lyrics like “Fuck the haters / fuck the racists” and an entire song about having a horrible father.

There’s plenty of space throughout the album to enjoy the vibes, like the beautiful instrumental “Babou’s Lullaby” or the calm oasis of “Kingdom,” but also plenty of strange moments to grab your attention. “Halifornia” has a chorus that combines the words “fuck” and “shine” in varying repetitions and orders and then abruptly turns into a cheerful parody(?) of Phantom Planet’s iconic “California”: “We’ve been on the run, snugglin’ in the sun / Hangin’ out with all the buds.” I would much rather go on a journey to Halifornia, wouldn’t you? In the psychedelic “Sexy Guy,” Alexander wryly sings of the power of being attractive before the music stops, and it becomes an a cappella meditation before that turns into a dramatic monster-movie splash of keys. Alexander has such an incredible vocal range that “Universal Love Balm” could almost be a super-weird Joel Plaskett song.

Even the more specific songs are relatable and inviting, like “Bruce Lee,” about having an idol that gives you the courage to explore new aspects of yourself. The track also boasts a killer one-two punch: “Men can be slimier in the Maritimes / and everywhere else.” Alexander has no qualms about being general, either: “F Da Man 2” (sequel to Universal Love’s “Fa Da Man,” of course) curses out the patriarchy, residential schools, coronavirus, and “every billionaire” and acknowledges that it’s not weird to hate yourself, but that the same time, “It’s not weird, but it’s fucking weird.”

“Not weird, but fucking weird” may be the best way to describe Alexander. There are lots of weird vocal modulations and musical u-turns throughout. Still, in the end, Universal Love 2 feels familiar and lived-in, like seeing a friend years later and realizing that despite your diverging life experiences, you’re the same people you always were. Universal love prevails.

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