Mississippi-based singer-songwriter Alex Pieschel kicks off 2017 with the release of his new album Songs for Strangers, forging ahead from his exceptional debut EP, Waitin' Around (2016). The album was recorded with fellow musicians Miles Jordan and Max Hartleroad, mastered by Josh Smith, with album artwork and backing vocals by Alice Pieschel.
The musical style across the ten tracks on Songs for Strangers ranges from clean, straightforward acoustic guitar production to a few that are abundant with classic, cool-sounding synths and keyboards. The songwriting is exceptional, genuine and personal. Along with five new compositions, the album also weaves in songs from 2016's Waitin' Around EP, including standout tracks "Warning", "Waitin' Around" and "Song for Strangers".
When I asked Alex if there was an overall theme to the album, he comments, "The songs were written over the past few years, so I would say the album coheres through its production instead of a unified theme. The album feels dynamic to me." Regarding any notable inspiration for Songs for Strangers, Alex explains, "In some ways I like that the album feels sort of disparate or piecemeal because it came about quickly as a result of unexpected new relationships formed in my small home town, a place where I didn't think such things were possible at a time when I thought I had mostly lost interest in making music."
Songs for Strangers leads off with the warm, subdued, almost late-70's sounding "Cowboy", with an atmosphere that would have made it a perfect inclusion on Röyksopp's recent "Late Night Tales" mix album. Dreamy and relaxed, the song's breezy and carefree-sounding keyboards create a peaceful musical landscape for lyrics the likes of "I'm not a number anymore", that bring to mind the legendary BBC TV series The Prisoner.
My favorite track is the Eighties-sounding "You Were Made for Loneliness": Energetic, danceable and catchy right from the get-go. Recorded using classic analog synthesizers, including a first model Juno 6 and a Linndrum machine, this brings to mind the lush, crisp early-Eighties sounds from artists like Gary Numan, The Human League and Peter Godwin. Turn this one up and play it loud - you can really feel the heavy bass synth on this track. In contrast to the song's upbeat atmosphere, the lyrics hint otherwise with lines like "your only skills are listening and pretending" and "all you ever learned to do is carry other people's memories".
"Anarchists" is moody, synth-driven and brings to mind the atmosphere and arrangement of memorable 80's songs the likes of Peter Gabriel ("Biko", "Lay Your Hands On Me") and Ultravox ("Vienna"). While the drum sequences and percussion in spots might sound synthesized, they are in fact real drums that you hear. Alex points out, "On the instrumental section, my engineer Miles made his Moog Voyager sound sort of like a snare drum to punctuate the percussion part".
With its crisp intro of sparse acoustic guitar and bass, "One Time" is one of the slower-paced tracks, spotlighting Alex's vocals with poignant, honest lyrics: "there's something cruel about the notion that to understand yourself is the only way to know anything about anybody else" followed by a hint of sarcasm: "why would anyone wanna know anything about anybody else?".
I asked Alex if any of the tracks held special meaning or significance to him. He relates, "I am partial to the last track, 'Emotions'. Minimal lyrics and I really like the arrangement. The production has a light, floating quality." This is a great ending track to Songs for Strangers.
VIDEO FOR "Emotions":