Alex Dezen: Album of the Month

Alex Dezen
Rock Ridge Music
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The best album I heard in the month of January doesn't officially release until February 12–a self-titled solo affair from Alex Dezen, the lead singer of Brooklyn's The Damnwells. Among the many things I admire about Dezen's solo venture is that he made me like the kind of album that generally annoys me: a let-me-tell-you-about-me collection. An entire album of these usually makes me want to scream, "Dude! Get over yourself; you're not that interesting." It's to Dezen's credit that his self-disclosures feel bigger than that.

Call it the voice of experience; he has already gotten into the heads of others by penning songs for the likes of Justin Bieber, Kelly Clarkson, The Dixie Chicks, Matt Hines, and the Pilobolus dance troupe. His news songs, though, are cut from non-pop cloth. You know you're in for personal stuff when a release kicks off with "Ode to Ex-Girlfriends." It's typical of the album's ten tracks in that Dezen writes in a long prose form that is heavy on narrative and short on poetry. (A lot of the lyrics don't even rhyme, let alone conform to meter or couplets.) It's also typical in that much of the material deals with relationships, usually of the doomed variety. A track titled "If You Can Say 'I Love You' on a Greeting Card, How Can it Be True?" is wordy, but poignant–the tale of a failed marriage. Boiled to its basics it's the classic cycle of abuse: violence/apology, promises/lies, guilt/betrayal, and children caught in the middle. Appropriately, Dezen puts down his acoustic guitar for an electric, as if symbolically allowing tragedy to spark and fritz. Speaking of guitars, "The Last Song I'll Ever Write (on this Guitar)" is a love song to an old D-35 Martin he was forced to sell. "Into the Hands of Hazelden" explores a different kind of regret: Dezen's musing over a college friendship and musical collaboration that fell apart in early adulthood. "I Don't Want to be Alone When I Die" suggests he's not had the best of luck in love.

The last of the above finds Dezen at the piano and in Seth-Glier-like sotto voice. He duplicates this effect on "Leonardo," in which he cleverly catalogs a doomed romance—himself presumably in the tragic male lead–by metaphorically casting his beloved as a 19th century woman like Kate Winslet in Titanic waiting to be swept away by a suave Leonardo Di Caprio: "He was cool, so cool/Like a Dylan/So brave and confident/And I was a short Jewish kid/with long hair and green tint…" But again, Dezen adjusts his musical vibes to the mood of his songs, including an angry dance club throb to "A Little Less Like Hell," in which he refuses to fall in line with self-congratulatory victory parades like the one after Osama bin Laden's death. Instead he notes: "But what I'll never understand is why/Regardless of how hard we try/We need someone on the cross/Just to make up for the things we lost." He sings it with the kind of leave-nothing-behind abandonment of Ellis Paul. "Elephant" is filled with lots of Millennial references, and sung like it might be a Paul Simon song, though the tune was inspired by the mix of structure and looseness of The Beatles' "Blackbird."

I'd be the first to admit that there are lyrical and musical misfires on the album and hints of self-absorption. But there are enough gems on this recording to make it very worth your while. Check out www.alexdezen.com in mid-February and see what you think.

Rob Weir  

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