"Dollstown" (Album, 2012)
Red Electric Records
Anyone who’s heard AlterRed’s Mind Forged Manacles debut LP from last year couldn’t have failed to notice that the approach taken by Welsh creative force Maeci AlterRed was carefully considered, created and presented. It introduced listeners to a troupe of characters involved in a narrative revolving around Dr AlterRed a deranged psychiatrist and his szchzoid view of the world around him. Yes, it was a ‘concept album’.
Risking alienating potential converts further, AlterRed have made the decision that as the world created for the songs on Mind Forged Manacles was so rich, that they’d make this follow-up the second in what is now set to be a trilogy of albums across which an ongoing and developing narrative is played out. Whether the underlying creativity can sustain a complete trilogy can only be determined once the third entry is delivered. In the meantime, Dollstown proves that it’s certainly strong enough to support a sequel.
What I especially like about AlterRed’s approach to writing and performing (their theatrical stage shows, in which characters from the material are represented on stage by the band members and others, are as much as part of the concept delivery as the songs themselves) is the that so much thought and consideration has gone into the inspiration for the songs. This is reflected in glimpses of self-references, in-jokes, homage to those who have inspired them and other titbits. Take the title, for example. Dollstown - clearly referring to the (imaginary) character the Patient that Dr AlterRed has created in his fractured mind. But then Mr AlterRed also happens to reside in Dalston, London. Dalston: doesn’t that sound similar to Dollstown?
Musically, this is a natural evolution of the core style established on Mind Forged Manacles rather than a radical departure of change of direction. And that’s fine, because it provides continuity. But that isn’t at the expense of ambition. In comparison, there are probably more mid-tempo entries to be found here but Dollstown has a richer feel to it and not just because of the well-chosen inclusion of analogue sounds alongside the pervading digital ones. And We Disappear briefly introduces us to a subtle, magical harmonising almost feminine backing vocal that has oodles of character – a new dimension that warrants further exploration. Penultimate track As She Circles The Drain should really have been kept back as the reflective coda to all that has gone before. It could also function as a template of a more thoughtful, mature AlterRed sound and that prospect excites me. Meanwhile, Dollstown is one fractured reality worth getting your head (and ears) around. 7/10
Rob Dyer (April 2012)
"Mind-Forged Manacles" (Album, 2011)
Red Electric Records
There’s a well-known maxim that we are the sum of our influences. With AlterRed’s debut album, those sources of inspiration are, he admits, recognizable; and include the likes of David Bowie, IAMX, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Whilst the latter will not cause one to raise an eyebrow, the name of Mike Garson did have me reaching for the internet. (Turns out Garson is a pianist who has worked with Bowie, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins.)
AlterRed is built around husband and wife partnership of Michael AlterRed and Vix Vain (and a handsome couple they make too), with Michael responsible for all composition and musicianship and Vix the image and presentation. Usually, the latter would be of little interest. However, what helps make AlterRed a distinctive proposition in its own right is an awful lot of thought has obviously gone into the concept behind both the project and this first collection of songs. This is carried over to their theatrical live performances which include characters from the songs appearing on stage with the band.
Fortunately, these are not the outpourings of a naïve teenager. The result is less imitation and more the considered absorption, distillation and application of inspiration meaning AlterRed is a serious proposition in its own right rather than a shadow of its influences. Genre wise this does straddle two camps somewhat – the indie electro/alt. pop of the likes of IAMX and the more melodic side of the fringes of industrial. I suspect the personal voice for AlterRed lies in a place somewhere between the two, perhaps more in a blending of the influences from the thin white duke and Corner but built through purely electronic means. And I expect that voice to be unique, as there is already a complexity to the songwriting that implies this first outing hints at, more than fully delivers, on AlterRed's promise.
There are all sorts of moments across this suite of eleven compositions that excite and inspire. If I had to single out one song that I'd point newcomers too it would be the thrilling Fleshbind probably because it cleverly weaves together all the varied charcateristics of AlterRed's songwriting ability into one powerful track. It's blending of low and high tempos, quiet piano melodies and loud, harsh noise and a great vocal performance is some achievement. With a distinctive and expressive voice that soars above an eclectic suite of narrative-imparting and well-constructed songs, Mind-Forged Manacles is unquestionably the elegant calling card of a conspicuous and very welcome addition to the UK electronic music scene. 7/10
Rob Dyer (September 2011)