Alex Dingley - Built In The Ruins Of A Monday Morning
Owain Paciuszko 18/10/2010
Alex Dingley's debut LP I Lost My Honey In The Grass was not only the best record of 2007, it is one of my favourite records of all time. I found it comparable to Lou Reed's classic album Transformer in that it was an album that felt complete, it had a through line without telling a story, it was such a complete listening experience yet each song stood perfectly on its own and they have remained as fresh and exciting over these past three years that I've been eagerly awaiting Dingley's next record with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. How can something live up to a level of self-generated hype that an artist as independent and off-the-radar as Dingley probably shouldn't really be saddled with?
Opening track Into The Blue layers vocals upon vocals in a peculiar and dischordant dawn chorus, acoustic guitar joined by violin joined by piano with a sense of community and sadness that makes an immediate distinction between this record and the previous; here you get more of a feeling of Dingley playing with a band and that lends a liveliness to this LP. This is evident once When Your Bones Show Through with its rat-a-tat lyrics kicks into gear, as much as it shares similar musical ground to previous Dingley tracks like Hello Peter it motors forward like a shed built box racer ricketing and careering down a steep hill.
Cats Eyes is a magical medley of styles, twinkly bells and acoustic guitars make this as close as Dingley could get to being twee, his voice a light, lilting scratchy sweetness balanced against Swci Boscawen's optimistic backing vocals. Meanwhile One Size Fits All is a curiously electro-tinged affair, Nigel Bowles' bass a dancefloor heartbeat to the track that rattles against Dingley's screeched barking of the title. It goes into a washing-machine driven apocalypse at the finale before being interupted by the squeaky keys of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, its pacing is familiar Dingley, a wonky guitar-driven platform for his spluttering lyrics and made strangely pop-friendly with those keys and handclaps. Dingley's lyrics are delightfully scattershot taking in everything with arch abandon; 'sticky floors, pointless wars.'
Lovely Day finds Dingley's fevered delivery over a gentle piano line and percussion that's somewhere between mechanical and handmade, building towards a guitar line that sounds like a kazoo before Dingley questions; 'So what did we do, to become so uncool?' The track shakes like a drunken shanty, recalling the madness and wonder of Bob Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man as it collapses into a harmonica led end, snatches of giggles in the mix. Against the Mountainside is the kind of angular folk-rock that Dingley excels at with effortless skill, and the sort of song that earned him comparisons to Stephen Malkmus and sure enough it's an erratic and quirky pop song with cartoony vocal ticks and superb guitar noodling much like the former-Pavement frontman now revels in as a solo-artist.
There's an unexpected sense of fragile optimism to You Don't Need To Belive In Anything But Me, the drum beat building up hopes as Dingley repeats 'We could play a game' over and over and a trumpet line stirring up a clumsy parade like a junk shop remake of Bright Eyes' Road To Joy. The excellently titled Baby We're All Biodegradable is a minute long punk song that strains Dingley's voice into a squeaky lunacy that sounds like the lovechild of Prince and Tom Waits and is thusly marvellous.
The Matador is a restrained folk song, enriched by rusty violin and Dingley's occasional forays into Welsh language vocals, taking its time and building with menace and dread toward anguished cries of 'Skin and bone!' Penultimate track Take It Or Leave It is a tender and spiteful tune with a deliciously dismissive tone of voice as Dingley and Boscawen sing; 'If that's the way you feel then who am I to change your mind?'
Closing track Sunrise Sunset begins like a Mariachi gunfight soundtrack, drums and guitars swaggering through the titular orange glow and it all has a certain finality to it that draws the record to a close with a neat touch.
Though this album isn't as immediate as its predecssor it is a vivid and experimental album that moves fast, filled with an abundance of ideas and energy which are arranged expertly around Dingley's knack for smart and darkly humourous lyrics and endlessly enjoyable tunes. This, like many 'sequels' is a grittier affair but Dingley finds a vein of shambolic romanticism that runs throughout the record, even in its bitterest moments.
Alex Dingley is one of the finest musicians working today, here his skill has evolved and branched off into twisted and erratic directions and he's created another utterly fulfilling record that will undoubtedly be on my 'Best of...' list come the year's end. The most disappointing thing about this album is the worry that it might be another three years until the next crop of new music from this incredibly talented songwriter.