The band-member-turned-soloist transformation has produced some worthwhile works over the past few years, from Lotus Plaza’s well-received work away from Deerhunter to Daniel Rossen’s (the guitarist from Grizzly Bear) perfectly enjoyable 2012 EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile. Occasionally an album like Person Pitch or Fever Ray will come along and present a grand, fully-formed solo effort that rivals and possibly trumps the artist’s work as a member of a larger whole. But, for the most part, these solo records tend to be a bit smaller, a bit more intimate, and showcase a slightly personalized variation on the style of the artist’s origins.
How Far Away, the first solo LP of Real Estate’s bassist, Alex Bleeker, manages to be different but not unrecognizable from Real Estate’s work. The album possesses the ease and natural tone of Real Estate’s records but conspicuously lacks the jangle pop stylings that allowed the band to stick out a bit from the wide-ranging genre of “white guys making indie rock.” Alex Bleeker and the Freaks might find their greatest likeness to Real Estate in a mutual commitment to classic genre trappings. For Real Estate, it’s a familiar ode to hazy, nostalgia-soaked surfer rock. For Bleeker and Co., it’s a total embrace of indie folk, with occasional dream pop and soft rock detours.
“Don’t Look Now,” opens the album and immediately proves that Bleeker has enough of a voice to carry a record, possessing a distinct lightness that meshes with the music he appears intent on making. It’s one of the more uptempo songs on the album and works well when it breaks into its powerful chorus. The album’s greatest foray into country-tinged slower music is the wonderful “Leave on the Light,” which blends some lovely backing vocals and piano into a sincere, affecting little love song. “Time Cloud” might be Bleeker’s most effective vocal performance, and the synth that surrounds the entire song gives it an intangible sense of nostalgia. Although it feels slightly out of place, its dreamy slowness ultimately makes for a worthwhile addition to the album.
Occasionally Bleeker’s songs can get muddied by either misplaced experimentation or a need for some experimental jolt that will give the songs a bit more depth. For example, on “Home I Love,” Bleeker buries his vocals, giving the whole song a monotonous feel and robbing it of the emotional resonance its lyrics strive for. “Who Are You Seeing?” plays around with vocals similarly, though its less egregious considering it’s more of a pop track and is somewhat buoyed by Amelia Meath’s accompanying vocals. Yet, on the second half of the album, How Far Away can suffer from the opposite issue: the songs are a bit bare-bones and tracks like “All My Songs” and “Steve’s Theme” fail to make much of an impact.
How Far Away certainly offers a lot to enjoy and admire, yet it also possesses flaws that are all too familiar on debuts. As Bleeker gains confidence and experience as a solo recording artist, he will be able to mollify many of the issues that compromise the record and create something that can stand beside his work in Real Estate.