For a few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of radio pop music and yearning for substance. Somehow substance (dynamic, nuanced, well-crafted songwriting) has not been one of the defining characteristics of commercially successful pop music for decades. Today, I got the sonic equivalent of a medium-rare, pan-seared filet mignon delivered right to my inbox: Alex Winston‘s “Careless,” which you can see and hear below. She’s hitting the Fillmore Tuesday 6/9 supporting Neon Trees, and we will be there.
When “Careless” starts, I first think I’ve accidentally clicked on a track from Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories. Then Winston’s vocals hit, and they are full of a reserved emotion, held back as someone who is trying not to say something they really want to say. Cue the curt little smacks on the high hat, which you get from keeping the cymbals tight-lipped, so to speak. (Kate Bush‘s weirdly Baroque-pop “Army Dreamers” comes to mind, wrought with unspoken emotion.)
At 0:46 the whole song explodes open. A tom-heavy pick up lands in a wide, wet cymbal splash. Vocally, all reservations are abandoned, and the emotion morphs into a strong confidence, with a backing choir that has evaded over-production, keeping the feeling of a bunch of friends singing along. This chorus is truly careless, expansive. This chorus rewrites the rest of the song. Now the reserved verses feel like an inhale instead, with the next exhale just a pre-chorus away.
This is such a perfectly crafted pop song I can hardly contain myself listening to it. It maintains the steady under-current of danceability by rarely dropping the four-on-the-floor beat, while rising and falling dynamically with a sensuality that is infectious. And Winston’s classically-trained voice brings a refreshing sophistication to the pop singer mold, where the aforementioned lack of substance is often accompanied by lack of actual talent as well. Alex Winston should be a star. Expect it to happen soon.
The video is also full of a strange and beautiful contrast, maintained throughout the song. Winston does not need to be surrounded by gray haired men to seem young and vital, but it sure does make the effect stand out. In particular, the man dancing alone in the ballroom at 2:55 just kills me.
The song was released as a single in February on Neon Gold, where Winston shares great company with HAIM, Cathedrals, Gotye, The Knocks and many others. She’ll be supporting Neon Trees all through June with a stop on Tuesday 6/9 at the Fillmore. Tickets here.
Photo by Emily Knecht