Alex Southey is a Canadian singer-songwriter and musician who makes outstanding music that can generally be described as alternative indie folk, but it’s so much more than that. Originally from Vancouver and currently based in Toronto, the busy artist has released quite a bit of music over the past few years, including three albums: Christmastown in 2019, You’re Not Just a Body to Me in 2020 and, most recently …And the Country Stirred this past February. Prior to that album’s release, I featured one of its singles “Rosie” – a deeply personal and haunting love song to his erstwhile hometown of Vancouver – on a Fresh New Tracks post.
Now he’s back with an exquisite new EP My Nights On the Island, which dropped September 17th. All the songs were written, performed, and produced by Alex, and mastered by Aaron Hutchinson. The beautiful cover artwork was designed and created by Felicia Wetterlin. The EP is a departure from his more typical indie folk sound, though truth be told, his music style is rather eclectic and hard to pin down, genre-wise. Like all creative artists, he’s not afraid to explore and experiment with his music, and as a result, each of his albums sound different from one another.
In an interview with Spill Magazine, Alex explained his creative process behind “My Nights On the Island: “I was trying to make an EP that would please my 17-year-old self. So, there is a little bit of Hip Hop and beats; I am not rapping, but in terms of beats. There are a bunch of acoustic guitars, and electric guitars and there is a theme, which is breaking up.” In a later Instagram post, he further elaborated “The EP encompasses a lot of things I wanted to do, and to not do the same thing again. Instead of starting with folk songs and dressing them up with an arrangement, I tried to go backwards, starting with what might be considered secondary or accent instruments (at least for my taste) as the main instrument. It forced me to write in a slightly different way. Of course, there are some pretty simply structured songs on here, like ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’, but there are also plenty of moments where it’s totally abstract in a way that at least absorbed ME and continued to pique my interest enough that I followed through with them.”
Well, the result is a fascinating and sonically complex work that’s pure delight for the senses. I’ve now listened to the EP six times, and discover new atmospheric sounds, instrumental textures and vocal nuances with each successive play. While there are common threads running through all the tracks, each one sounds uniquely different, surprising and thrilling us at every turn. Using nature sounds of water, waves and birds, he takes us right to that island.
The darkly beautiful opening track “The Gods Are Fighting” starts off with sounds of a boat slowly moving through what I’m imagining to be nighttime waters, accompanied by far-off ominous synths. At around 45 seconds, the song abruptly transitions to a lovely acoustic guitar-driven melody, highlighted by gorgeous strings and what sounds like a Mellotron, soaring to a dramatic crescendo. The track calms back down at the end with gentle sounds of breaking waves. About the track, Alex told Spill Magazine: “I wrote the song around the time my last significant relationship ended. That also happened to be when it felt as though Toronto and its relationship with many of its citizens was at an all-time low. The song describes the dual positions of a relationship that has soured – where even dreams are muted and the agreed upon etiquette is out the window.” His richly layered vocals are captivating, with a melancholy quality that nicely conveys the sadness and pain of his break-up.
On the moody, atmospheric “Evergreen“, which sounds a bit like a song Bon Iver could have recorded, Alex experiments with lush, otherworldly synths and sounds, over which he layers delicate notes of what sounds like a mandolin or possibly a ukelele. The lyrics are spare, but he wistfully laments of how his feelings of love have died: “I don’t, I don’t, I don’t love you. I turned yesterday into stone.” And as its title suggests, the instrumental piece “Mellotron and Juliet” features a stunning Mellotron and his enchanting falsetto croon, creating a dreamy, yet melancholy soundscape.
“My Nights On the Island / Rich In Experience” is an interesting track, as it’s actually two distinct, but related mostly instrumental tracks that Alex has fashioned into a couplet. The first half, which is the title track, starts off with Alex’s charming strummed acoustic guitar, then deeply resonant brass sounds from what I’m guessing is his Mellotron wash over us as he sings in almost exotic-sounding ethereal vocals, accompanied by somber piano keys and a languid hip hop beat. The song appears to end at 2:30, and after a 10-second lull, we hear sounds of birds chirping along with a return of the beautiful Mellotron. Eventually, horns enter as the music swells into a lush, idyllic soundscape befitting its “Rich in Experience” title.
Perhaps the most unusual song is the dramatic and trippy “As Close As You’ll Ever Be”, which Alex first released as a single in July. The song opens and closes with sounds of a large crowd cheering, as if at a rock concert. He explained this technique to Spill Magazine: “On this song, there is kind of a crowd atmosphere which is influenced from listening to albums by Hip Hop artists and bands like Pink Floyd who would use crowd noises, and weirdly also influenced by Oasis. On their best albums they kind of do this tiny little intro and tiny little outro leading into songs.” Musically, the song features blaring, almost tortured synths and sounds, with acoustic guitar during quieter moments. The lyrics seem to speak to his partner’s lack of appreciation for his worth as a musician: “I’m the hit in your head / I’m all on your bedspread / But that’s as close as you’ll ever be. And it’s true I earn half of what the next dance gets, but I’ve got a heart of gold you’ll pay to see.” I love his vocals, which sound radically different on each track.
On the bittersweet closing track “There’s Anneko, Down the Fire Escape“, Alex comes to terms with the fact that the relationship is over for good, and that they must each let go and move on. The song has a wonderful dominant bassline throughout, overlain with mournful cinematic synths and acoustic guitar notes. His vocals are filled with sadness and regret as he laments “There’s a neat trick, that I taught myself. To let go. Let go. / I can never love you how you want. So let go. Let go.” It’s a fine, albeit dark, finish to this beautiful EP. My Nights On the Island is an impressive, masterfully-crafted work that should make Alex feel quite proud.
Purchase on Bandcamp