From her early EPs and singles to her work with her friends in Toronto, Badbadnotgood and Kaytranada, the voice of Charlotte Day Wilson has been floating around the periphery of my musical consciousness for several years now. So it’s hard to believe that this is only her debut album. Fortunately, it’s a cracker. UK audiences who know and love Rosie Lowe and Submotion Orchestra need to be hitting play on Alpha right away.
Alpha is a calm, confident and classic sounding album overall, and gets better with every listen. As a body of work it only goes to show that the time spent by Charlotte on her craft, since we first heard ‘Work’ and ‘Nothing New’, has been put to excellent use. For a debut, it’s neither shy nor brash – indeed Charlotte feels like she’s been with us forever like the old red leather chair in the corner of the room opposite me as I write. Of course, that is obviously a terrible simile for you reading this, but hopefully you get the idea.
Once you learn she not only wrote, sung and performed several instruments on the album, but also produced it and released it on her own label and directed her music videos, what may seem like a long wait for a debut can easily be forgiven. And that’s all before we even get to her voice.
The way she moderates that voice (and my what an incredible voice) with a blistering soulfulness when needed, yet restrained in her delivery, is the measure of her brilliance. The chorus of album highlight ‘If I Could’ should stand as exemplar to other singers prone to unnecessary embellishment. This goes for the production too. It’s impeccably judged and allows for both big arrangements like ‘I Can Only Whisper’ and quiet, stripped back moments like ‘Adam Complex’. Vocal and harmonic effects and loops are used superbly throughout, never sounding irritating or gratuitous as is often the case. The gospel choir style effect on ‘If I Could’ for example, is clearly synthesised but brings the same energy and completely different timbre which could never be achieved with sung vocals alone. The result is often spine tingling harmonies.
You’d be forgiven for thinking there are even more guest appearances than listed on the album, such is the vocal variety – the high notes on ‘Mountains’ and the pitched down ‘I’ll take care of you / if you want me to I’m / always ready for your love’ from ‘Take Care of You’.
In addition to the variety shown in the production and vocals, there’s an extraordinary range of instrumentation and sounds on Alpha from saxophone to ‘I Can Only Whisper’s nose scrunching sitar guitar, to a whole load of sounds I can only attempt to describe. ‘Lovesick Utopia’ has a wondrous hook with a combination of trembling strings and whistling that has to be heard to be understood.
There is an astounding run of nine songs in a row before the album slows down at the very end, save from ‘Danny’s Interlude’ which could have been yet another great song if developed from the original idea. As is, it adds very little. Those 35 seconds are the only point where a foot is put wrong on Alpha.
This extraordinary album has everything I could have wanted and more from Charlotte since first hearing her all those years ago. Alpha cements what those of us who heard her before already knew – she’s a one-woman musical force to be reckoned with. Go and listen to this album now.
Words by James Spearing