Listening to music should always present as some sort of experience. Where the tracks flowing through your ears stimulate your mind or insight a particular feeling. You feel this viscerally with Alex Izenberg’s debut album Harlequin. Combining an eclectic mix of ambient soundscapes, intricate lyrics and complexities, the album is a great collection of sound.
It’s always interesting to understand the thought processes behind an album, particularly a debut, but in Izenberg’s case, it was more a matter of the type of music he wanted to hear as opposed to focusing on the type of music he wanted to put out into the world. “I wanted to make music that I thought I’d like to hear and what I thought was good.”
Although Harlequin may be his debut, the Californian native is no stranger to the music scene, having regularly played in bands and performed under various pseudonyms throughout the US for many years.
On Harlequin, you can hear an element of heartbreak propelling the album forward. With both a band and a relationship breakdown happening in quick succession, Izenberg channelled tragedy into music, creating music that was a little different to his previous work. “I began writing songs on my computer, focusing a lot more on production as opposed to just writing for guitar. Soon after I uploaded my work to Myspace where Weird World my label, luckily liked my stuff and picked me up”.
More a collection of colliding sounds than traditionally structured songs, Harlequin is a completely unpredictable album, leaving the listener surprised at every passing turn, bumping constantly into strings, harmonies and piano ballads. This mesh of sound is perhaps emblematic of working with producer and arranger Ari Balouzian. “I met Ari around 5 years ago, we both just decided we wanted to make music together, he knew I was a songwriter, he had heard some of the recordings that I’d made”. This combination resulted in a real focus on traditional instruments particularly strings – Balouzian is a classically trained violinist.
Through Harlequin, Izenberg showcases his unique voice and love for sound. There are numerous standout songs, although as a listener your genre of preference will draw you to particular tracks. To Move On begins with slow almost mournful piano but progresses to a quite jaunty track, layered with harmonies and sounds. The string element of the record is really at the forefront with tracks like Libra, where this particular sound almost overshadows the vocal element very purposefully. People takes the listener almost back in time with a dreamy, sad pop-piano-ballad fusion closing out the album nicely. Due to the eclectic nature of the tracks, Harlequin is not really an album where you would sit and listen from start to finish, more to the point, it’s about taking in the individual tracks as they were meant to be heard.
Amongst the mix, Grace is a playful yet unpredictable track combining piano, strings and a true sense of wonder. It’s a light, no-nonsense wash of sound. Although appearing light-hearted on the surface, it’s interesting to note there’s a far more serious and personal side to this particular track. “When I was working on my album in San Francisco, I developed a crush on the studio assistant named Grace who was working there. One of the days she was on the soundboard working on the song, I saw that she had an engagement ring on and I remember feeling really bummed out. We’d been talking a lot and I felt like we had really good chemistry, I ended up writing a song about it.” So what did the Grace think of this particular gesture? “I sent it to her over email although she never responded (laughs)… Grace is possibly the only track on the album that had specific inspiration”.
As to the way the artist describes his music and Harlequin as a whole, Izenberg provides a cryptic, yet in-depth analysis of his collection of sounds. “Harlequin has a lot of left turns stylistically that it’s just so hard to drop a pin on it to say whether it’s A or B or C. I think it’s pop, it’s ’70s singer-songwriter, it’s ambient, it’s all of those things”. When making the album, it was really sound, not lyrical meaning that drove its creation. “I think I’m really interested in how the recording sounds as a whole as opposed to just the lyrics or just the instrumentation, I was trying to focus on how the record was going to sound like rather than anything else, that was my focus.”
Alex Izenberg’s debut album ‘Harlequin’ is out now. Get a copy here.