Alex Dezen Dives Into Narrative, Confessional Territory On Self-Titled Debut
by Brody Coronelli - Link: Twitter
Consistently throughout his near-fifteen year career, singer-songwriter Alex Dezen has distinguished himself as an excellent songwriter. Fans of his New York-bred rock outfit The Damnwells know this well, and his day job as a songwriter for other artists only solidifies it further. For these reasons, and as a longtime fan of Dezen, I wasn’t apprehensive when he revealed he’d be taking a different lyrical approach on his first solo debut. Instead of writing in the manner of flowery metaphors and deep meanings that so many singer-songwriters utilize on a song to song basis, Dezen aimed to tell a collection of personal stories and chronicle his own experiences as honestly and as up-front as possible. While this could easily be interpreted as the self-centered singer-songwriter approach that often rings so monotonous for listeners, Dezen does it masterfully on his debut; weaving together an assemblage of songs with themes that can extend far past their personal base and offer heartening insight into the experiences that have helped shape his music over the years.
On Dezen’s self-titled debut, nothing is too personal or off limits. The album is a cathartic narrative of a life and mind behind music. “For this record I thought that melody was important, just like chords and lyrics and everything, but I did feel that the melody had to serve the lyrics and the music had to serve the lyrics and the production had to serve the lyrics; that the lyrics were the focal point of this record. And I think that for me, it definitely changed. The lyrics come first. In the way in which I approached this record, I’m not writing pretty lyrics, I’m just writing what I think is the truth,” Dezen stated in a press release for Rock Ridge Music.
The delivery is honest, tell-all, and often charmingly messy in its lyrical organization; all for the sake of a successful, authentic result. While he doesn’t reach the cringeworthy point of honesty that Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek demonstrated on “Dogs”- a song chronicling his early sexual history- Dezen retains a close sentimental distance from these stories, giving the listener a chance to experience them through his eyes. “I’m very sentimental,” he stated. “Sentimentality is my bread and butter. I’m very nostalgic. I think to be a songwriter – at least to be a songwriter of confessional songs – you have to be pretty sentimental. But being that you’re a sentimental person, it does wind up confusing the motion of the narrative of your life.”
On the saccharine and thoughtful opener “Ode To Ex Girlfriends,” Dezen recounts his dating history and yields heartening results. “Her parents were Cuban and Spanish just like a willow tree/That I would climb in when she kissed me,” he sings, holding his past close to his chest. “Into The Hands Of Hazelden,” another thematic narrative, apologetically tells the story of a longtime fellow bandmate and the speedbumps in their relationship. “We moved to Brooklyn and started a band/More like Tom Petty way less than we can/Though we tried to keep it weird but kept coming back to ‘Into The Great Wide Open’,” he sings, offering insight into his beginnings as a musician.
While all these songs are narrative-based, Dezen often shines brightest when in the midst of personal reflection. On “Leonardo,” he recounts the first time he saw Titanic as a child and how Leonardo DiCaprio’s romantic bravado gave him a budding sense of insecurity. Similarly, on the sweeping, acoustical, and Beatles-reminiscent “Elephant,” Dezen details a number of seemingly insignificant experiences and how they eventually budded into a similar personal revelation professed on the chorus. “Things might stay the same, or they might start to change/Either way, it all rises before it falls down/Pieces on the ground/And what you thought was love was only some sad old sound of your high heart coming down,” he sings- in one of his best hooks in recent memory.
One of the most charming offerings on this debut is “A Little Less Like Hell”: a confrontational song on the politics of revenge accompanied by a dance-driven instrumental that ultimately makes the serious commentary in the lyrics more approachable. On this song, Dezen sings of America’s fixation on aggression and violence by referencing 9/11, unnecessary outrage towards President Obama, and a 2014 controversial comedy, The Interview. “Tell me who I gotta talk to/Tell me who I gotta kill/Just to make this place feel a little less like hell,” he concludes on the chorus with serious temperament. On this song, Dezen withholds his political opinions and simply faces these issues with his morals- a refreshing perspective to see today.
These songs don’t withhold any authenticity, and that’s what makes Dezen’s solo debut so promising. The songs feel as if they were written out of necessity rather than urgency to make a record, and in the end, they shine through to mold an emotionally-stirring and intriguing album from beginning to end. And beneath Dezen’s narratives and reflections, the sound of a full, beating heart can be heard ticking in the background at all times. The self-centered focus on most of these tracks may turn some listeners in search of their own emotional validation off, but inside every lyric, melody, and arrangement on Alex Dezen, there lays a story to be heard and appreciated.
On the brooding and emotionally haunting “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone When I Die”, Dezen sings: “Maybe the sky will open up into a George Harrison song”. In honor of the sentimental achievement of his solo debut, I’d like to temporarily change the line to: “Maybe the sky will open up into an Alex Dezen song”.
Alex Dezen is out now via Rock Ridge Music.
Listen to: “Into The Hands Of Hazelden”, “Ode To Ex-Girlfriends”, “A Little Less Like Hell”