Simon Alexander – A Place to Call Home
I think it’s safe to say most of us have struggled to be productive this year. Even shut in at home with nothing but time, motivation is hard to come by, and it’s been a real struggle to get in the right head space with so much uncertainty swirling round us. Some lucky few have managed to escape the doldrums however and have made the best out of the bad hand 2020 has dealt us. In some corners the creative juices have been flowing seemingly unhindered, with some fantastic releases shining out as a much needed silver lining. If the world were to dish out a special award for steadfast dedication to providing us with new music, to distract from all the crap going on and help to stave off madness for a few weeks longer, then Swedish singer/songwriter Simon Alexander would get my nomination. Not content with providing us with one of 2020’s best EPs with In The Rust, he’s back just a few months later with his debut album.
While his previous releases have been a fairly even blend of energizing indie folk anthems and more soothing stripped-back balladry, A Place to Call Home sticks firmly with the latter. It’s an absolute banquet for anyone hungry for more exquisite acoustic tracks in their life, and in many places it’s remarkable just how well Simon can completely captivate your attention with often nothing more than just guitar and vocals.
The double whammy of ‘Home’ and ‘Brother’ open the record with a dark gothic western vibe. Simon offers a suitably fiery vocal performance on ‘Phoenix Fire’, adding a dash of soul to the mix, and ‘Gloria’ is awash with gorgeous melodies and boasts the album’s most addictive chorus. Instrumental centrepiece ‘Someday (From Marie’s Room)’ is an absolute delight from start to finish; intricate, expressive and more engrossing than many full band instrumentals I’ve heard this year. Interestingly the album’s shortest track also proves to be its best. ‘Hollow Wine Grove’ has a mystical air to it, like music made to ring out from some clearing in an enchanted forest. The track shifts from intricate guitar work to a more muted atmospheric feel that makes great use of empty space, with the dreamy backing vocals bridging the gap between the two.
The record does begin to lose a bit of steam in the second half however. While Simon generally does remarkably well with his bare bones approach to this release, there are still a few moments where it feels like something is missing. The arrangements on tracks like ‘Northwoods’, ‘White Light’ and ‘Then, maybe’ sadly just aren’t quite as detailed or engaging as those found earlier on in the album. By this point of the record you begin to long for just a tad more variation. It wouldn’t take much to reel me back in; I think a little dash of piano or some understated strings on a couple of tracks would add a lot to the listening experience, without stealing away the spotlight or detracting from the overall stripped back philosophy.
There’s definitely no major missteps with A Place to Call Home, every song here earns its place, it’s more a matter of having just a smidge too much of a good thing. The focused nature of the record means it helps to be in the right mood to get the full measure of it, but if you do find yourself yearning for some light and airy acoustic folk then you’re in luck, as you’ve just found your perfect autumn soundtrack. A Place to Call Home sees Simon Alexander continue his 2020 winning streak, and as much as I’d say he deserves a well earned break, I can’t help but look forward to whatever he has in store for us next.