The title of Alex Calder’s newest album couldn’t be more accurate. Listening to Strange Dreams is indeed like having a strange dream. The music wobbles and shimmers. It hops along like a hurt animal doped up on narcotics. It’s hallucinogenic demeanor oozes out of the speakers as if some symbiotic creature wanting to meld into your DNA and take you over. On Calder’s excellent and eerie Time ep the vibe was much more like Deerhunter on quaaludes. This time around he’s apparently no longer with Captured Tracks and has self-released through his Bandcamp page and this freedom has allowed Calder to let his freak flag fly a little higher.
If you follow Alex Calder on social media you’d know he has stated in the last few months that he was retiring from music and concentrating on a culinary career. I’d say that was just another hallucination as I’m listening to his full-length debut as I type this. I think much like his pal and former band mate Mac Demarco Calder likes to screw with us as much as play us tunes. “Retract” opens the album like some lost Link Wray song that had been buried in the dirt for 60 years. The rough, reverbed guitar gives away to flanged notes and faint drums as Calder sings in the distance like a voice coming out of the ether. This album from the beginning sounds like it’s in a different headspace than last year’s Time ep. It has this drugged-out carnival vibe. It’s child-like and menacing all at once. “Strange Dreams” sounds like the dark side of Real Estate. The song has a jangle to it that Real Estate do so well, but with an underlying quirkiness that puts this song in its own class. When Calder sings “I have strange dreams”, I have no reason not to believe him. “Memory Resolve” is a hypnotic track that brings some of that Deerhunter vibe back. No matter how downright creepy Calder can be there’s no denying he can write a great tune. This song proves that. It still has the feel of a guy getting drunk on Canadian lagers and recording in his living room. The difference this time is that Alex Calder seems like he wants to paint a bigger picture. He’s broadening his musical scope. As broad as you can go in your living room drunk on Canadian lagers. “The Morning” starts out like Youth Lagoon caught in a well calling for help. Sounding like a lost Brian Wilson being saved by a tripping Trevor Powers, Calder plays a tinkling keyboard line over what sounds like thunder in the distance. “Slowing Down” is a jaunty little rocker, at least as far as Calder goes. It sounds like some bizarro version of Blur; slightly out of tune and out of time with Damon Albarn on a King Missle kick. This is the kind of stuff you find on a serial killer’s mixtape after the murder-suicide. “Life Purpose” is another fun track with Caitlin Loney on vocals. Who’s Caitlin Loney you ask? She’s in the band Freelove Fenner, of course. It’s another greasy, slippery track that sedates you into submission with its icky charm. “Mid Life Holiday” closes that album with an organ that gives way to Alex Calder’s ever-hazy guitar and bass. The track sounds like a pieced-together Frankenstein-like tune, with 80s soft rock cut and pasted together with a David Lynch flair.
Despite all of my references to serial killer mixtapes and drugged-up wobbly tunes, I love this album. Alex Calder’s charm is that he seems to be able to write great pop songs, but with a very eschewed view of the universe. Whether his view is blurred by Canadian lagers, pills, weed, or opiates that remains to be seen. For my money, Calder can continue to ingest whatever he wants if the results are anything resembling the dystopian pop stained into Strange Dreams. You better get a copy while you can, as I’m sure Alex Calder will be retiring from music soon to follow his dream of being a carnival barker in Montreal.