Faces Change is the first full-length release from Bloomington band Alexander the Great and in many ways, it has been a longtime coming. This album showcases an impressive amount of songs, some that have already become crowd favorites, and a few surprise jams. It also shows off the wide instrumentation the band uses to create their massive rocking sound. It’s a mature step in the right direction for such a talented group of musicians.
From the opening track to the end, there is a clear evolution of the band’s sound. It is evident that they really wanted to explore some new sounds and techniques with this album.
I strongly encourage you to check out track #4 first. Entitled “Dusk”, it’s the first instrumental track on the album and my favorite. I really feel that for anyone who is already a fan, this song can really sum up the magic that makes this band great. It’s their creative musical style and ability to write some amazing music. Now, I’m not saying the band doesn’t write good lyrics, but rather that on any song, if you take away the words, you still have an amazing set of music. This is largely due to their creative arrangements and variety of instruments, and a strong ability to create some meaty guitar licks.
“Dusk” (formerly “Dusk at the Sample Gates”) is a great imagery piece that makes me fall in love with it with every listen. It starts with a thick but moving bassline and is quickly filled in with two swirling guitar lines. The simple, rhythmic drums in the back add to the already relaxed tone of the song.
Now, go back to the start of the record with “Home Alone in Central Park”. This is a song that really got me the first time I heard it live, and I’m glad to see it opening the album, complete with its slow, melodic intro. The song quickly turns into an energizing frenzy of emotion as the guitar line picks up and and the drums break through. The driving pulse leads into Fox’s opening cry, “Do You Believe in Love?? After First Lust?” There is a really great mix of instruments going on here. Knipstine’s luscious piano lines really shape the chord movement in the verses while the drums drive the song and the guitars and that extra texture and flavor that connects the song.
Next is a set of tunes that have become standard to ATG’s live repertoire. “Don’t You Forget It” and “Tree of Knowledge” are classic crowd sing-a-longs that have finally made it to an album. “Tree of Knowledge” is one of the band’s quality songs when it comes to lyric writing starting out strong with:
“Don’t close your eyes when you look at the sun, it doesn’t always shine for everyone,
No don’t think you’re the only one who’s ever been low on love”
It’s really one of their best storyteller pieces about young love that can change over the years.
“Postcard” and “Invisible Ink” are pieces closest to the old-school ATG style songs. I could easily see these pieces on the Circumnavigation EP, with the spooky keyboard lines and dark guitar tones of “Postcard” and the full-ness of sound present in “Invisible Ink”.
“Invisible Ink” is another lyrically strong piece that really catches your ear due to it’s constant variations in tempo and dynamics. It captures emotion effectively, leading up to the crowd call “But I recommend that you find yourself some better friends, that love you for your blemishes”. It’s a really beautiful rock piece with great piano lines.
From here the album reveals a new, more vulnerable sound for Alexander the Great. “Late Night Rockit’s” for instance, is a very raw-sounding recording that features Chris Stearly’s mandolin skills. The guitar line is beautiful and inviting and really suits the romantic nature of the tune. It’s also great to see another song referencing a great Bloomington spot (Rockit’s Famous Pizza).
“Cold Feet” is one of my new favorites from this band. From it’s start with a bouncy, high-pitched guitar melody to it’s slowed hook “Baby there’s no rush, It’s not the olden days” this is definitely a track leading towards a more progressive sound from the band. I also love the instrumentation in the slowed part of the song with low drone-style trombones and mellow piano lines. Then the song picks up again with a driving guitar fill and some key drumwork from Lumsdaine to guide to the big finish.
“Mapmaking Outlines” always surprises me when I hear it. I love the rhythmically complex intro and first verses. Then the song takes a Trio In Stereo-style turn and becomes a poppy horn-filled tune. Strange.
Then we get to “Cabin Fever”. This is the second instrumental track on the album, and the first real electronic attempt I’ve heard from the band. It’s an unusual instrument set-up. There are some interesting keyboard tones and creative use of percussion (sleigh bells, a bell kit, drum machine beats). It leaves you curious, which is good, because the curiosity definitely follows into the next song.
“Arms” is a great follow-up to “Cabin Fever”. It starts with scattered percussion and an eerie but rich sounding guitar melody that blooms into a 6/8 spiraling theme. Fox’s reverbed voice begins the songs round-about style vocals; the other band members fill-in the background vocals choir style leading up the the song’s climactic end…that totally leaves you on a cliffhanger.
“Jet Setting Jets”, the final track of Faces Change showcases Knipstine’s keyboarding skills with a range of instruments in the songs minute-and-a-half intro. The guitar comes in subtly and then all the instruments slam into place around 1:30 as Beach Boy-like vocals lead into the first verse. The choir style singing hits you again around 2:40, but much more isolated. It literally gave me chills. From there the song suddenly begins driving in typical ATG fashion starting with the guitar, then the drums and then everything else, until it seems like a roller coaster of sound, and then surprisingly releases as Fox nearly speaks the last line “We Are All Gonna Burn Out Someday.”
As I said, it is clear that the band is taking some big steps with this album and exploring their sound. The album is appropriately titled Faces Change, because you start out with songs that clearly dominate the usual ATG sound and finish with a completely different band altogether. It’s an impressive feat in only 12 songs, and really leaves me curious about what the next step for the band will be. They could really go anywhere with their sound at this point, the boundaries have been broken down, they clearly have the guts to take on new territory.