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Joe Hedges – Alchemy
October 29, 2010

After a successful stint with July For Kings, Joe Hedges sought his creative outlet in a solo release in 2007 (“Curvature”). We reviewed that release back then and it was obvious that Hedges’ creativity, originality and quest for esthetically eclectic music had found new resonance. He strayed from the rock & roll we came to know July For Kings for and painted on a bigger pallette of musical influences and outings. Then July For Kings successfully reformed and released “Monochrome” and now Hedges returns with his new solo release, “Alchemy”.

Alchemy is a term with a questionable undertone. It originates in the eastern world where it was actually a quite esteemed search for wisdom, but during the Middle Ages it got a more sinister character when it was more often seen as the search for eternal life and to change ordinary substances (most commonly lead) into gold.

But essentially alchemy has to do with change and interchangeability. And that is applicable to the album as well. Just like on “Curvature” (and even more so), Hedges uses a wide range of influences and mixes genres in an eclectic fashion to create organic and intriguing compositions. Most obvious are the clashing of electronic and ambient based influences with the more acoustic and rhythmic influences. Though clashing is the wrong word. I would rather say there is a symbiosis between the two. Something you can immediately hear on the opener, Magic. The pulsing beat that grows more intense throughout the song with the rhythmic instruments seeping through and Hedges’ vocals almost hover in between the layers of music.

I Can Try is a song that also uses a recognizable beat but comes off as a little more straight-forward than the opener. In between the vocal effects and the strong lyrical content of the song it is remarkably accessible and could be an interesting choice to release as a single. And at that point we come to one of the album’s top tracks. Ladders has a sort of epic build up that combines different styles. At first it wasn’t clear why I thought so highly of this track as it is not something I usually seem to go for, but then it hit me. While the sound of the song comes off very current, there is an underlying layer, the layer that may actually be the cause for that build up I referred to, that grabs back to something familiar. I started listening to some of the songs on “Monochrome” and Ladders feels like a natural progression from that album. Like it was taken from that batch of songs and more intriguing layers were added.

Proletarian is a darker and less accessible song but it’s a good example of how Hedges can work a composition. There’s an explosion of sound yet it never sounds forced or unorganized and Cicadas contrasts the previous song completely as it is basically a stripped down, acoustic guitar song. Later in the song a soft piano melody joins the guitar and the fragile vocals and the rhythmic part of the composition comes into the foreground more as it works to its climax. And as we then arrive at the middle of the album there’s an instrumental interlude (VSCITA) before Hedges launches the album into trippy Wait For You. It feels very spacy, almost like cyberpop. At times I get a Bowie meets Kraftwerk kinda vibe with this track.

Right from the first note of Cemetery Sun I got some kind of moody Christmas feeling. Maybe because some of the harmonies reminded me of the better known Christmas tunes, but thankfully this song doesn’t go down the same path. Musically it is a little retro, laid-back even, but the most impressive part of the song are the vocals and the complementing backing vocals. And like I had with Ladders, I could hear July For Kings-era songwriting in Cadmiums. Of course it’s more electronic than anything released under the JFK moniker, but there are certain patterns that keep coming back in Joe Hedges’ compositions, whether those are for July For Kings or for his solo releases, and Cadmiums is another example of such.

Half-Right couldn’t convince me upon the first listen, but the more I listen to the album, the more I warm up to the song. There is something in the song that sticks with me. Especially the part from 1m52 – 2m13, that rhythm (which you can hear in other parts of the song as well, but most obviously in that stretch) is what makes this song leave an impression on the listener. Epinephrine is one of my favorites off “Alchemy” as it sounds very smooth and organic and shows off Hedges’ exceptional vocal skills. And the song goes through different stages where it gets more intense or less intense or where the instrumental pallette changes. I think this is a good example of how good Hedges actually is. And while I was speaking of Christmas earlier, the closer is called Christmas Day. Not your typical holiday song but the paced, though dark, feel of the song fits with the wintery days. It isn’t very catchy or uplifting, on the contrary, but it is captivating and intriguing and makes you listen. On top of that it serves as a good ending to this very interesting album.

In comparison with his previous album… no lets not say that, because it isn’t fair to compare the two. But in a way you could say there is a progression since “Curvature”. Hedges branches out and tries new things but recognizable patters of songwriting and composing seep through and it results in a unique and new album that has a similar organic and musical signature as Hedges’ previous work. So yeah, there’s a natural progression that led to “Alchemy” and it led to an album that the general public may need some time for to fully appreciate, but the compositions are often elaborate and intriguing and if you are willing to listen to the tracks you will find them captivating and even moving.

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