On his fifth album, Theo Alexander shows how far a limited palette can stretch. Reflecting on the fucked-up times we live in, a sense of muted drama emerges as a common thread throughout Sunbathing Through a Glass Screen. Alexander worked with visual artist and electronic musician Omar El Sadek to create a complete video accompaniment to the album which enhances his sonic exploration of despair-laden anxiety that permeates the world’s current state.
At the center of Alexander’s work is his piano playing. Often catchy, but also swimming in a sea of melancholy, fear, and sometimes, hope. Sprightly passages paint the walls of “Innumerabilia,” accented by simple synth basslines, the piece becomes slightly disorienting as the swirling piano notes loop endlessly skyward. There’s a certain beauty in it, but red flags blare beneath the surface. Alexander revisits this, but with an eye more toward thwarting the innate pressure of moving forward against a current that’s only interest is keeping everyone stuck moving backward, on the tonally similar “Variation From Sunbathing.” As the piano begins to pull apart and a more minimalist approach takes hold, devolving into pensive yet oddly beautiful tape loops, there’s a feeling of finally giving up.
I’m not entirely clear how many instruments Alexander plays on Sunbathing Through a Glass Screen, but it’s not an overwhelming number and each song is sonically similar without being repetitive or boring. Cohesive elements make the album more immersive while continually playing to Alexander’s strength as a pianist. Album standout “Bright-Eyed Hunger” brings everything together with pulsing anxiousness and flittering arpeggios. Double-bass from the Prague Improvisation Orchestra’s George Cremaschi adds emotional heft, grounding Alexander’s mesmerizing aural points of light and keeping them from lifting off and leaving this world behind. It aches with a heartbroken realization that figuring out how to find small moments of joy in this caustic Eden is perhaps the best one can hope for.
Sunbathing Through a Glass Screen is a pleasant surprise, even in its disconsolation. Theo Alexander’s compositions are imaginative and original yet find familiarity, evoking early ‘70s minimalism. There are so many layers to unearth, and the expressive soundscapes throughout offer a momentary reprieve from all the outside noise.
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