Alex Calder's debut EP, Time, was a straightforward, if a little weird around the edges, bedroom pop album that showed off the singer/songwriter's easy way with a melody and some nice, snappy songs with sneaky sharp hooks. His first full-length album, Strange Dreams, is a much murkier, far more mysterious affair. Calder lets the weirdness that was creeping around previously seep into every aspect of the album, burying his vocals in murky levels of effects and dialing the fidelity down even more. The songs, too, are less likely to be catchy and fun; more often they are formless, obtuse, or basically hook-free. Which should be a bad thing in most cases; here, it creates an atmosphere of hermetically sealed gloom that Calder seems very hesitant to break. Still, apart from a stray track here (the too repetitive "The Morning") or there (the naggingly ghostly "Lola"), the subdued, barely trying approach Calder takes works well and invites the listener to dig deeper and listen harder, extracting the little crumbs of emotional wreckage and melancholy static that are fleetingly dropped. It's not a particularly fun experience, but if one sticks around for a couple listens, there is a quiet satisfaction to be had from getting trapped in Calder's claustrophobic world. Plus, there are just enough songs with a degree of approachability and replayability to keep things from getting too abstract or dreary. The almost sprightly, doused-in-chorus "No Device" has lots of gooey soft rock appeal; "Memory Resolve" has a pleasingly rudimentary My Bloody Valentine guitar grind running through it; and "Strange Dreams" almost has a hook sharp enough to penetrate the haze. These tracks serve as reminders that Calder does have the skill to make simple, easy-to-swallow pop songs; the fact that he populates Strange Dreams with a batch of almost unlovable songs, nearly unlistenable at times, instead speaks of a possibly career-wrecking level of artistic integrity. Or at least the courage to subvert his skill set in an interesting way. The album might scare off some fans who were reeled in by his perky pop songs, but it might find a home with those who like their pop seriously murky and gray.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra