Thursday, June 14, 2018

Album Review: This Pale Fire - Alchemy (2017)

Another review I had published in the May/June 2018 issue of NZ Musician magazine:
It feels like an age since Auckland’s Corban Koschak announced his arrival as a young songwriter of depth and eloquence on This Pale Fire’s debut EP, Dusk (2014). The intervening years have seen Koschak hone his craft and build a solid reputation on the local live circuit, prior to the release of this full-length debut, Alchemy, in late 2017. Alchemy resumes where Dusk left off, with a 12-track set full of gentle, emotive, acoustic gems of understated beauty, which mostly deal with love, loss, and all manner of existential angst. Throughout, Koschak, working closely with frequent collaborator and album producer Levi Patel, demonstrates an innate understanding of songcraft and arrangement. Each tune is given ample room to breathe, build, and develop a life of its own. From pastoral opener 'Northern Lights' through to dreamy closer 'Outro', nothing feels out of place or rushed. Each track benefits from rare attention to detail, whether it’s the range of instrumentation on offer – acoustic and electric guitars, keys, and strings, most notably, cello – or whether it’s the sumptuous production gloss provided by Patel. If there’s a slight concern, it’s that some of This Pale Fire’s work can tend to come across as being a little one dimensional in places. Much of this stuff is dark, intimate, and haunting, to the point where, depending on your constitution, you may feel like tuning out, or looking the other way, to avoid (what feels like) an element of rubber-necking on Koschak’s heartfelt personal pain. Or perhaps it’s simply the case that being able to draw you in so close in the first place works as the album’s greatest strength? Whatever the case, Alchemy is a dreampop masterclass, and a terrific debut from an artist surely destined for much greater things.

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