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Alex Henry Foster And The Long Shadows - 'Standing Under Bright Lights' Album Review


1. The Son Of Hannah

2. The Pain That Bonds (The Beginning Is The End)

3. Winter Is Coming In

4. Shadows Of Our Evening Tides

5. The Hunter (By The Seaside Window)

6. Snowflakes In July

7. Summertime Departures (Sometimes I Dream)

8. Lavender Sky

9. The Love That Moves (The End Is Beginning)

Sometimes an artists defining moment can come from the darkest of places. Look at Pink Floyd's "The Wall" or Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral" for example, album's where darkness, alienation and emotional pain have helped shaped the artist's vision to help them create a work of art that is easily hailed as a classic. A handful of years ago Alex Henry Foster found himself at a point where his life should have been perfect. As frontman of Canada's Your Favorite Enemies, Alex was performing to a devoted fan base across the globe. Tensions from touring and being in a band were starting to sour the experience. Then, in 2016, Alex's father passed away leaving the artist lost and adrift. Relocating to Tangier, he explored these feelings of loss and grief, channeling them into what would become his first solo album "Windows In The Sky." The album possesses a dreamlike quality, its eight songs gently leading the listener on an emotional journey that most of us can relate and empathise with. Feelings of loss are indeed universal and transcend and known language. Alex was asked to bring his music to Montreal's Jazz Festival in 2019 and it's this performance that the live album "Standing Under Bright Lights" is taken from. He is joined by his former bandmates from Your Favorite Enemies, expanded and now going by the name The Long Shadows. It's a partnership that's grown far beyond its roots and "Standing Under Bright Lights" proves this. The performance starts with a new track. ‘The Son Of Hannah’ acts as an introduction for what is to come, its hypnotic groove slowly builds as the band layer sound on sound to create what can only be described as a painting with sound. Alex digs within to pull the words and emotion from a place so deeply subterranean within himself. The rest of the album is drawn from his debut album which he then plays in full and in sequence. If you’ve not heard “Windows In The Sky” before I implore you to do so. It’s not a necessity to be familiar with it before you start listening but it’s helpful. On “Standing Under Bright Lights” Alex lays his soul bare with a performance that must be as painful as it is cathartic. There is a ritualistic feel to the performance as the artists all seem to become entranced with the music that they’re playing together. It swirls around you, washing over you like the ocean tide. Musically, the songs are expanded from their original recorded forms, allowing them to grow where needed. Jamming out tracks live almost feels like a lazy cop out but this transcends that. It is the sound of musicians channeling the essence of the songs in their purest forms, with some doubling in length from their original versions. They become raw, visceral, tearing at you with both ferocity and tenderness. This isn’t the sort of music you play along to; you need to become one within it. Rather than listen you need to let it possess you and willingly give yourself up to it. In interviews Alex mentions the word “communion” quite a lot and it’s something that lies at the beating heart of this performance. Yes, it makes it sound almost religious but I think of it as more than that. It's about sharing a collective commonality, something that connects us all. The thread of grief runs through all the material, and how we live and grow through it all. Alex's vocals are almost spoken at times, occasionally sounding like the great Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction. It works so well, drawing you deeper, allowing the hypnotic tribal music to pull you under like rogue riptide. Let's talk about the music for a moment. It shares borders with Psychedelia and Prog, taking the best elements of each and combining them in it's own unique way. You have genetic lineage to The Doors ('The Hunter (By The Seaside Window)' and 'Snowflakes In July' in particular have commonality with 'The End' and 'Riders On The Storm') while adding the layers and textures popularised by bands like Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and ..... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. It's also the perfect sibling of Spiritualized's 1997 classic "Ladies And Gentlemen We're Floating In Space" with its fuzzy waves of sonic bliss. Sometimes it's a gentle lapping, other moments it becomes an overwhelming crashing of chaos. "Standing Under Bright Lights" is available on triple vinyl and also CD. The CD set comes with a DVD of the full gig which is worth picking up. Foster fronts the band behind a Moog keyboard, the rest of the expanded band scattered around him in black. Ribbons hang from the roof (they later double as a projection screen) with bright beams of white light cutting through the smoke creating a haunting atmosphere. Warmer colours are mixed through later but it's a design based on creating the perfect ambience. Again, it's about immersion, the opportunity to listen to the music without being distracted from it's purity. Alex Henry Foster and The Long Shadows have created a thing of great beauty and fragility with this performance and its subsequent release. As with Nick Cave's "Ghosteen" it's an album that is weighted heavily in loss and grief but it's buoyant in it's delivery. When it could easily pull us under with its darkness, it instead reminds us all of the worth we can bring into the world. "Standing Under Bright Lights" is a deeply spiritual hymn to the warmth and light that burns inside us all.

Review - Scott Hamilton


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