Alex Dingley : Beat the BabbleLibertino Records : 15.06.2018
Author John Banville wrote a striking sentence in his Dublin-framed book of autobiographical fragments, Time Pieces: "How it haunts the heart, the unfathomable mystery of other people's lives, of other people's misfortune." If art should cast a little light on anything, it is on that mystery, suggesting its depths at least.
Beat the Babble is a great album on any scale, and its writer/performer is clearly working on the edge of art rather than with ephemeral pop. Recorded at a challenging and turbulent time for Dingley (as co-producer Tim Presley has explained in detail) the music, sparsely and immediately recorded, captures a sense of emotional turmoil in its perfectly articulated vignettes and stories.
There are highlights in the ten tracks - the rolling piano and mix of yearning and regret that defines Between the Sheets, the affecting simplicity of If I Asked You to Dance, the melancholy of Lovely Life to Leave - but the overall impression whilst listening from start to finish is of being somewhere else entirely, spirited away from the humdrum into someone else's imagination. The music flows and dances by like an extended hypnagogic dream.
The reason for this is straightforward. The record (it is still available at the time of writing on blue vinyl) lives and breathes in a space bound on one side by the intuition of The Velvet Underground, another by the music The Cure appear to be making in the claustrophobic wardrobe in Tim Pope's film for their classic single Close to Me, and on a third by the liminal magic of an Edwardian fairground at dusk.
This is Beat the Babble's first UK issue - but it is Dingley's third LP and was originally released three years ago in the US. The last time I owned an album as singular and individual as this was Clash cohort Tymon Dogg's Relentless, and I wore the brilliant music out of the grooves of it. Where Relentless was often angry and political, Beat the Babble is intensely personal, but just as essential; this is one of 2018's albums of the year, and of any other year you might care to pick.
"The first time I met Alex Dingley, he was standing in a dark rainy alleyway in the UK. I was halfway intimidated, him smoking a cigarette as he grinned wide... Two front teeth missing and he extended his hand... Mischievously laughing. Immediately I felt his kind and genial warm soul. I knew he was a longtime friend of Cate Le Bon, so I knew he was good people. When asked to "co-produce" his album with Cate I was so very interested to hear his life in music."
"Anyone with two front teeth knocked out must have a plethora of wild stories (and...he does). I couldn't have been more curious. He comes from Wales, where he shares his life with his lovely wife Mared, who in 2010 collapsed and was diagnosed with a grade-three brain tumour. She was given 18 months to live, but is still here six years later. Touch wood everyday. She is a colourful, inspired artist, and uses her art to express this life reset. Alex has story, he has more than story, and these life-changing events have inspired a need to bleed the pen.This time they are both sharing this experience through the eternal beauty of love, art, and song."
"Bags were packed and Alex, Mared, Cate, myself and trusted (sonic master) recorder Samur Khouja all communed up in the panoramic house studio overlooking the ocean in Northern California. Far from Wales, but near a release, an unfettered Pacific expressional adventure."
"When I heard the lyrics and vocal delivery I had to remind myself this is not some songwriting fiction... This is a man whose life and shared love-life was reset to zero with life's quicksilver contretemps. This is a melodic book on tape, a journal put to song, a soundtrack to film starring real people, real script."
"I think Cate's & my only focus was to help the musical arrangements by servicing them sharp and simply, so Alex's songs and voice could effect the listener as it effected him and us."
"I know people like easy-to-digest musical comparisons. The recordings remind me a little bit of early Stiff Records, which I love. So, there you go..."
Tim Presley (White Fence), 2016
ALEX DINGLEY I Not Alone in the Dark