Music » Record Reviews

Jack Alberson Makes the Grade on Trials


Jack Alberson, the Memphis songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has released a series of tight singles and EPs over recent years, now offers up a full-length, Trials. The record release show on April 14 was at Move the Air Audio, and the cozy studio made the perfect home for a night of synthesizers, stacked loops, and guitar wizardry — just a few of the flavors on display on Trials.

The album's arrangements are lush, with layers of beats and drum loops, synthesizers, guitars, and drums. The guitars alternately crunch and drone, and the synths and drum loops provide a recurring aural motif that ties the whole production together. Each song assembles itself measure by measure, a fully realized little micro-verse that becomes clearer with each listen. The warmth of the arrangements — and Alberson’s sense of humor and straightforward delivery — lends an air of whimsy to the recordings. It keeps the songs from sinking into melancholy, even as Alberson sings, with an air of resignation, of “life in his leaky lifeboat.” His lyrics offer comfort and encouragement but no easy answers or sugarcoating, accepting that life’s trials give its triumphs definition and contrast.

Such paradoxes color much of Trials, which seemingly crafts a harmonious whole by combining tropes from various genres (think world music, French pop, post-rock, new wave, and the kind of ’60s balladry reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Them). Alberson’s honest lyrics are done justice by his strong vocals, and he is backed up to good effect by the talented Kathryn Brawley Suda and Cat Hall on tracks “And Rainy Days” and “Television Quicksand,” respectively. 
Jack Alberson
  • Jack Alberson
Alberson’s bell-like vocals recall Ben Folds crooning over a particularly rich arrangement by The Cure. Talking Heads and Pixies seem to make their (welcome) influence felt at times as well. It’s difficult to pin down any sound for too long, as the atmosphere shifts and morphs throughout each listen. As a result, Trials' most human quality is its ability to try on different moods. This is an album with a lot of personality. The end result is layered and catchy with a hint of darkness. And the lyrics are easy to pick out as Alberson throws out lines like “television quicksand swallows you whole.”

Must-listen tracks include album opener “Motivational,” “Let Me Be Right,” and “Television Quicksand.” The album was produced and recorded by Alberson and J.D. Reager, with additional recording by Josh Stevens and Eric Wilson at “various homes using a Tascam 24-track digital recorder.” The last words on the back cover of Trials are advice to be heeded: “No peak limiting — play it loud.”

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