How Far Away
Reviewed by Stephen Krock
Alex Bleeker has successfully avoided the dreaded sophomore slump in this second album, How Far Away. Joined by a band of musically like-minded “freaks,” including Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath on backup vocals, Bleeker surrounds his unusual and uniquely hypnotic voice with a mix of sad, country twang and a series of delightfully unexpected sounds. I was mostly surprised to hear the synth and piano. And surprise is something few artists can manage to pull off, these days.
The appropriate title, How Far Away, also aptly describes the distant and doleful wailing that saunters out from between Bleeker’s lips. He sounds similar to the vocals of Gorillaz, oddly enough, but he uses it with the soul and feelings of Aimee Mann, set to a backdrop that is often pop-y and upbeat. Even with the majority of lyrics bemoaning the trials of love in repose, the contrast is undeniably refreshing. Tracks like “Don’t Look Down” and “Who Are You Seeing?” show off the words that are all too real and pained, but are driven by a fun and kinetic beat. It’s this and Bleeker’s slick voice that make How Far Away heartbreaking and human, rather than simply angsty.
When things slow down on the more minimalist tracks, the lyrics have a trace of hope to them, which keep them from being bogged down with too much heaviness. Don’t misunderstand, even that hope is laced with some cynicism, like in the great “Home I Love,” wherein Bleeker croons about “watch[ing] all my dreams on cable.”
Halfway through, the songs start to all have the same heartbeat, which is the only thing that keeps How Far Away from being spectacular. These later tracks, however, are short and sweet and thus do not come off as filler. Indeed, “All My Songs” and the lovely, but bleak “Love Fadeaway” still stand on their own. The album starts off very, very strong, however, with the stellar and unpredictable “Leave on the Light” and “Time Cloud.” The former maintains that blue, country swagger, while keeping the adrenaline up with clever guitar work and some light piano rock. “Time Cloud” is particularly special, featuring the aforementioned synth and a dreamlike haze also reminiscent of Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach.
Those are just some of the pleasant surprises to be found on this album. Alex Bleeker and the Freaks’ How Far Away is a joy to behold, and just shy of perfect.