Alex Calder came up with Mac Demarco in Makeout Videotape. Playing lo fi, kind of sleazy pop with Mac, he went out on his own after Demarco struck it big with his album 2. Where Demarco displayed a kind of Cheshire cat grin and self-assured creepiness that came off more endearing than problematic, Alex Calder’s solo work was darker and harder to pin down. Time, his debut EP with Captured Tracks was a quick shot of woozy pop that was more in tune with label mate Chris Cohen or a strung out Nick Drake than his buddy Demarco. Full-length Strange Dreams was more of that, but at a larger scale. Even his weird Mold Boy release felt like dark confessions under the guise of some lazy fever dream.
But then everything stopped. Allegations of sexual misconduct arrived at the doorstep of Captured Tracks and Calder was tossed off the roster like a bad penny, his music disappearing from their website and from streaming services. Alex Calder released a statement stating he knows now that his actions and behavior towards a woman years ago were wrong and not consensual. He apologized, said he was getting counseling and disappeared, with his pending follow-up to Strange Dreams being shelved seemingly forever.
Nearly two years later and Alex Calder has put his long absent self-titled follow-up on his Bandcamp page for people to download for free. It keeps with the vibes of his earlier albums, but sounds like a guy trying to expand his sound into brighter moods and more nuanced production. It’s a great woozy pop album, and a stark reminder of what ghosts of the past can do to the best laid plans.
If you’re not familiar with Calder’s work, this is probably a great place to start. It’s the most accessible record he’s made. Tracks like “Operator”, “Noticing Me”, and “Another Day” all feel like these bizarro world pop hits in a dreamt-up late 60s. Fans of Chris Cohen, Real Estate, Ariel Pink, older Deerhunter, and his former band mate Demarco will find much to enjoy here. It’s casually dark and strangely inviting, like a carnival funhouse with nitrous gas pumped into it.
In all his work, Calder shows a knack for making big sounding music out of very little. Track “Death Beside Me” has the sound of a big pop track; big synths, background harmonies, and just the right amount of reverb to help the song expand to a widescreen scope. “Fading Away” sounds like Beach House with a quaalude numbness over top.
Alex Calder, even before the assault allegations came to light, seemed like he could give or take being a musician. He’d post that he was quitting music to pursue other things, then he’d post a DIY album on his Bandcamp a week later. Maybe he had aspirations of being a comedian, or the next Andy Kaufman. Since he dropped his debut EP back in 2013 I’ve been fascinated with his work. His songs are compelling, dark, quirky, and have an off-kilter sort of mad genius quality to them. I think with this album, had it been released with backing and the typical promotional cycle, could’ve set the stage for a decent creative momentum. Not a lucrative career, but maybe a self-sustaining one.
That was not to be. Calder messed up and hurt someone. Career over. Guess there’s still being a comedian. Regardless, the album is out and it’s free. It’s pretty good. Listen if you want.