Mendelssohn just wanted to be Mendelssohn. So said my essays at University. All of them. Admittedly in a music degree where performance and composition were given (at least by me) more credence, there wasn’t an abundance of them to do, but after discovering the line in my first essay and liking how it made me appear rather clever, I purposely inserted it everywhere. True as it was that feted German Romantic composer Mendelssohn did (at least appear to be) plough his own furrow despite or in spite of what was going on in music elsewhere, or what was expected of him, its place in essays such as Modern experimental music since 1945 was somewhat confusing to my various lecturers.
Glasgow producer Alex Menzies, aka Alex Smoke returns to celebrated Belgian label R&S for his new album Love Over Will. Listening to the record Smoke/Menzies has a lot of the Mendelssohns about him. Mixing up his icy yet melancholic electronics with beats that hint at the dance-floor yet never quite make it that far, his songs are often infected with ‘real’ instruments, as he plays with soundscapes using his own dusky (almost Gahan like) baritone, often soaked in effects with layers of bubbling, often edgy synths.
Opener ‘Fair is Foul’ sets the tone for the album, the cold synths intertwine with these wory electronics and Smokes emotive vocal as he evokes what almost sounds like a desperation, as things ripple along. Follow on Dire Need is one of the records highlights, as it shuffles onwards, Menzies claiming ‘I wanna be famous / I wanna be rich’ while his music slips through the gaps in the beats to suggest otherwise.
It’s not that there’s no hope or change in the record – Manacles could be a post dancefloor chiller, All my Atoms is so delicate and precious you can barely turn away while Yearning Mississippi mixes up the needle crackle with these almost constant sour sounding chords to leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Its just that Menzies seems most comfortable in cranking up the sadness and pain – Astar Mara positively aches, while the fantastic Galdr with its earthy string sounds can squeeze your heart and keep you right on the edge.
Damn it, Alex Smoke just wants to be Alex Smoke. Sod Mendelssohn.