A singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, Alex Izenberg spent a period of five years beginning in his late teens writing and recording material to be culled for his debut album. Working in various spaces and under pseudonyms, Izenberg remained deliberately off the radar until he and co-producers Ari Balouzian (Tobias Jesso, Jr.) and Dash LeFrancis (Vas Defrans) fine-tuned his particular take on chamber pop. If carefully constructed, the resulting set is far from refined on the unabashedly oddball Harlequin. Theatrical from the onset, it opens with a whoosh and tremoloed strings as Izenberg talk-sings "On and on the story goes..." with his multi-tracked light rasp. The strings soon switch to an off-kilter sostenuto that's either recorded and played backwards or otherwise manipulated. Eventually, timpani join in before acoustic instruments give way to glitchy noise effects and the sounds of a passing train. Called "The Farm," the prologue signals that Harlequin is a studio creation and we should expect the unexpected. Sure enough, it's followed by a piano-based love song evocative of '70s-era Carole King and Burt Bacharach ("Grace"). Unconventional harmonies on layered vocal tracks that don't quite line up appear throughout the album and turn out to be a distinctive (and kind of cool) feature of his sound. Other songs trade or combine vintage Baroque pop with a Beck-like experimentalism that ranges from catchy to, more rarely, inscrutable; "Archer" ends in a melodic cacophony reminiscent of "Revolution 9," and "A Bird Came Down" is sound collage rather than song. It all goes down easy, though, on tunes like "Changes," where bold studio sculpting plays along with the core song instead of masking it. The advance single "To Move On" nails a balance of songwriting and flair via a simpler palette of piano, saxophone, and rhythm section. Harlequin is the type of album that may not please those who hear the saucy single and come for more of the same, but it may thrill certain headphoned listeners who appreciate both classic songwriting and an audacious approach.
by Marcy Donelson