Best known for being the charismatic bass player & backing vocalist of the Australian progressive metal band VOYAGER, Perth based musician Alex Canion takes the helm to navigate through the murky waters of alternative/heavy rock with his debut solo release, Birthmark, released independently on 25 October – his birthday!
The title of the EP was inspired by the birthmarks on Alex’s left side of his face, symbolising his first solo effort in the music world and celebrating that which makes us all unique in our own way. With the guitars recorded in a guitar shop after hours and over the course of six years, Birthmark is Alex’s first foray into the world of solo artists and features not only bass parts composed and performed by Alex, but also sees him take on some drum parts, guitar and lead vocal duties as well, resulting in an emotive and personal journey where Alex can showcase his multi instrumentalist talents.
The five tracks on ths EP are a mix of alternative rock; prog; folk; folk-rock, and their styles and influences reveal Alex’s love for bands such as Opeth, Type O Negative, Nine Inch Nails and Katatonia. Each song showcases his multi-instrumental abilities, with him performing all the instruments on the EP itself.
The EP opens with To The Fore, a semi acoustic blend of prog and folk-rock and I tell you what, for an “independent” recording you’re immediately struck by the richness of the sound production, the clarity and mix is spot on. To The Fore is a melodic, almost pastoral number but with meat in the percussion, dexterity in the guitar work and a nice combination of sounds in the overall arrangement. Somehow, I find myself surprised by the strength of Alex’s vocals – they are a captivating mix of assuredness-of-voice coupled with an inherent vulnerability. The lyrics tell of that same vulnerability and worry, but somehow coupled to a sense of optimism within the circle of life? It all works for me anyhow, the song is a treat!
Mote of Dust ploughs what I think is a similar furrow, that sense of looking back and forwards, at what has been to what might be, and all the anxiety and uncertainty that goes with it. Alex actually has his grandad joining in on this, singing the third verse as it relates to the narrator in his more advanced age. Again it’s composed in a broadly folk-rock style, with touches of prog and alt-rock/post-rock a la Opeth. As Alex says, having his grandad immortalised in the song makes it particularly special to him. His grandfather has been singing barbershop for over twenty years and Alex is happy to be second-best singer on this track!
Habitual echoes that same sense of middle-aged Ennui – “55 and not knowing stuff”, while perhaps accepting that ignorance is bliss, there’s a lot to be said for a simple life and not trying to conquer Everest every day? The style again somehow has a very “English” sense to it – it reminds me of an old folk-rock band called Decameron who wrote some lovely, poignant songs about loves and losses, the twists and turns of life without ever being really appreciated for their songwriting craft. Nice arrangements again – this is the sort of songset where the word “nice” is not a put-down, its a really empathetic compliment!
Sorrowtar is described by Alex as possibly the best song he’s ever written. It ‘s more rocky and darker than the previous three, and Alex says: “Sorrowtar is an ode to my battle with depression. Sorrowtar is a word I made up to try and describe what I was feeling inside at that time. The way I visualised it was as if I had black tar stretched out like tree roots from the core of my being, spreading throughout my body and infecting my organs and bones like cancer. It literally impacted every aspect of who I was and how I thought about myself. The crazy thing is that there’s always that little bit of Sorrowtar deep inside, I just need to make sure it’s not being fed!”
Heavily inspired by Nine Inch Nails – and maybe a hint of Snow Patrol? – to me there’s a real reminder of Linkin Park’s sadly missed Chester Bennington in the purity and emotion of Alex’s vocals. It’s darker, heavier, a really really powerful song. I love it, it’s the standout track on the EP and you can sense the effort and solid emotion that Alex has sweated into its creation. For me, the point is that we’re all a bit like this, we all love to somehow almost hoard little pinpricks of pain and regret?
For the music video of Sorrowtar (see below), Alex collaborated the efforts of good friends and local Perth musicians, including a drummer you might recognise as Ashley Doodkorte, also from Voyager. The other musicians are Ben Court on Bass and Ari Remund on Piano, with Alex at the helm on guitars and vocals.
Dream A Dream closes the EP. I found myself likening the folk-rock style of the arrangements to some of John Martyn’s and others’ work from the 70’s (check out John and Beverley Martin – The Road to Ruin – luscious!) Heavy hints of Katatonia also abound, soulmates in self-examination?
Altogether, a thoroughly well written, performed and experienced selection of tracks, I was totally absorbed in the mood created, and not at all miserable! There’s a real “timelessness” about his compositions and the overall vibe of the EP – which is somehow quite ironic!