Alberta - MMMMM
David Boone’s new album under the banner Alberta, MMMMM, definitely boasts a sound unlike anything else you’ll hear this year and this gives him an immediately signature style wise for an indie release like this. There’s a combination of intimacy and distance coming through the album opener “Outta My Head” that Alberta sustains over the course of eleven songs that’s difficult to accurately describe. The songs deal with thorny emotions and face them head on through the music, lyrics, and gripping vocals, but those qualities are immersed with a theatrical air that’s intriguing rather than overwrought. “Outta My Head” has a surprising punk spirit in its seething indifference about the audience’s perceptions and the sinewy accompaniment is characteristic of the album as a whole.
“Nobody’s” backs off the first song’s romping tempo in favor of a more measured take on Boone’s sound. His vocal is more nuanced here, as well, but still manifests the same unbridled touch shaping the opener’s singing performance. The obvious intelligence underlying this album’s composition and recording has no better illustration, really, than in the way Boone holds down a consistent sound throughout the release, yet manipulates it in countless variations. “Parlour” will be a revelatory moment for some. It’s thoroughly steeped in blues music with steady drumming, midnight lit organ playing lending a haunted feeling to the piece, and glowering red-eyed intensity coming from Boone’s voice. There’s nothing in the album’s first two songs hinting towards what comes with “Parlour” and it’s nothing less than stunning how completely Boone masters his own vision for this traditional form.
Alberta strikes up an improbable mix of influences with the song “Black Powder Sweet Pea” with its near-ragtime bounce, lightly romping piano, quasi-jazzy guitar, and it’s topped with an unlikely dash of violin to the song. It’s like a bit of music theater, really, with the outsized way it comes across with listeners, but there’s nothing straining for effect. It may sound unlike anything you’ve heard lately, but it sounds natural. “Baby, Don’t Blow Your Head Off” takes the earlier blues direction of “Parlour” to its furthest possible extension and really sets MMMMM on fire with a stylized but anguished blues. You can hear the desperation of the song’s title in every lyric and Boone, once again, brings a theatrical quality to his phrasing without ever descending into melodrama.
“Clueless” begins with occasional bass notes sounding off under slightly staggered piano lines. Introducing percussion into the song gives it a clearer shape and tightens the piano playing; there’s a lot of space in this performance and the piano playing dips in and out of the arrangement at the right times. Alberta experiments with an unusual percussion texture during the introduction for “Jay Walk’n”, but the song soon settles into a meditative tempo. Once again, Boone resists any temptation to layer the song with too heavy of an instrumental presence and the stripped down character of the performance gives listeners ample opportunity to appreciate his lyrical acumen. This is one of MMMMM’s finest pieces of writing.
The finale “Well, Well” doesn’t back an inch away from the same creativity defining the entire record. Blues comes back in a full effect with the song, including some spot on harmonica playing, and Boone even invokes whispers of a classic country sound we haven’t heard until now. What an imaginative journey MMMMM is – David Boone’s ear for music and the spirit filling his songwriting is clearly of the moment, but also for all time. It results in an artistic work strong enough to stand posterity’s glare.