After self-releasing alt-country LP Waves in 2020, Tommy Alexander found his record on numerous end of the year lists, including nods from KEXP and Magnet Magazine. By this point it is clear that Alexander has established himself as a facet of the indie music world from his impressive and burgeoning booking agency, Pilot Light Booking, to his own musical outpouring, Alexander pens timeless songs with a powerful and dynamic voice and an evolved grasp on dense and concise lyrical design.
Waves opens on the line ‘I been sittin’ alone with a troubled mind, thinkin’ bout better times / I’m pretty sure it’s too late to start this over…’ loping along on backfire snare and an amplified acoustic riff, bemoaning stagnation. In early December 2019 Tommy traveled to Enterprise, Oregon with various other Portland luminaries (TK & The Holy Know Nothings, to be exact) to record at OK Theater with Bart Budwig. He couldn’t have possibly known when he cut this, or the jam End Of The World that it, or something close to it — was right around the bend. That particular country-folk song is a presentiment to several points of view for what to do when… well, what seems like the end of the world nears.
But back to the mind: What if the refuse of failed relationships, decaying social contracts, and our own, crumbling, corporeal, carapaces are the compost fuel for the continuum – or betterment – of human life? What if lashing waves of guilt, anxiety, and depression are normal human experiences like happiness, togetherness, and success? What if we mistakenly imposed a value on success? What if failure holds the same secrets, and the same weight? What if you could offload it, organise it, source it, exchange it, craft it – all of it – into meaningful works of art? What the value of lived experience was the fact that it came and went in waves at all?
It seems like Tommy’s own hard working nature, musical contributions, and constant crafting have done just that. Waves sit right in the middle of his album like the thesis statement he’s been trying to write about his work. A brawler, a bawler, and a ballad about different levels of relationships — admiration and rock’n’roll, lived-in love and country-folk, and the title track: a woozy folk ballad for the worn. Where most artists catch a snag on trying to achieve a sound, Tommy lets the sound represent the song. Helped along here by Taylor Kingman (backup vocals, guitar), Adam Witowski (guitar, piano), Mike Coykendall (synth, bass, drums) Ian Wade (bass), Buddy Weeks (drums), Bart Budwig (trumpet, engineering), and Jon Neufeld (mastering), the album shapes up as the work of other talented, if unheralded, utility players from the Northwest.
So much of Waves will continue to accompany you after just one listen. Tears plays like a jukebox jingle, ready to spring on you when – inevitably – things get worse, and you find new ways to cry. I Blame Myself will be there when you lie down, and when you wake, encouraging you to take responsibility for what comes with the new day. As Tommy Alexander ends Waves, it’s mystifying how he could’ve presaged the current collective mood with the short Doing Things Together, singing ‘Doing things together sure beats doing things away from you, yes it’s true I’m missin’ you tonight.’
I’m not much for prophecy, but my mind surely wants to categorise this as an album to help us through hard times. Lately it seems everyone is experiencing loneliness, and despair, but they’re also finding ways to create opportunities for their community. Tommy Alexander’s Waves comes from the few important things we’re left with when illusions crumble: a chance at self reflection, the opportunity to be of service to others, and lived experiences that make good art.
Tommy & co. have been fortunate to share the stage with inspiring artists like Michael McDonald, Big Thief, Chaka Khan, Mac Demarco, Adrianne Lenker, People Under The Stairs and more.