I’ve had trouble taking Alex Bleeker and the Freaks as seriously as some of the other (admittedly also frivolous) Underwater Peoples projects. Though Alex Bleeker’s singing and songwriting has been featured on Real Estate’s Days LP (he wrote and sings “Wonder Years”) Alex Bleeker and the Freaks have felt distinctly like someone’s cheerful little side project; and I’m starting to see that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Because even though an album like How Far Away subsists largely on guitar pop renegotiations and a cheap shot approach to hook building, it is still just a straight up blast of an album. Yes it is an utter pastiche of well-worn indie paradigms, but it’s presented so cleverly and with so much alacrity that every song on How Far Away is a refreshing, if forgettable, joy – more than can be said for Real Estate’s more rigorous and vanguard-y Days. How Far Away serves as a careful reminder of the wide breadth of indie guitar-pop, as well as the wholesome fun that can be derived from tacking countrified guitar parts over lo fi synth riffs.
How Far Away‘s pastoral brightness makes it very similar to another country-cum-something-else indie album: Spanish Dance Troupe by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci; “Leave on the Light,” for example, persists in Euros Child’s The Band-referencing country seance songs. It could definitely be said, on the other hand, that How Far Away is a prime example of that millennial genre repositioning which unlocks so much modern indie music from any sort of artistic movement. Yes, great artists steal, but they should also be smart enough to lie about it; but How Far Away is just too damn enjoyable for me to care about its bald-faced abductions. One gets the impression that as far as How Far Away is concerned Alex Bleeker and the Freaks are not only aware that they’re making “just another indie album”, but that they’re also smartly tuned into how rewarding it is to not have to pretend that you’re making revolutionary music. Look at a group like The Band, which made some fantastic artistic statements without doing anything remotely original, and then take a listen to the weirdly bossa nova-influenced “Steve’s Theme,” and then tell me that Alex Bleeker and the Freaks don’t have every clues as to what they’re doing on How Far Away.
The fidelity of the tracks on How Far Away is very reminiscent of Elephant 6 projects that blended the folky, acoustic mysticism of psychedelic music with mid-90s lo fi. “Home I Love” sounds especially comfortable being tied into that zone, and Bleeker’s voice is nebulously “southern indie” enough to be warped by compression and distortion into a Rob Schneider sendup. Bleeker and co. seem to have very little in terms of a defining sound, switching amicably from the country-tinged guitar noodling of a song like “Home I Love” or “Leave on the Light” to the Yellow Magic Orchestra-influenced “Time Cloud.” The aesthetic frustration is almost made more palpable by the fact that each of these songs is immediately catchy and sonically engaging in its own way.
“Who Are You Seeing” has the unfortunate quality of it being possible to attribute the song “car commercial indie,” and sounds like it could have been pulled right off of a Los Campesinos album. Other songs, “Like See You On Sunday” seem destined to be confined to loft parties in Bushwick. How Far Away is hardly a coherent album, and if someone told me it was actually just a singles collection from Undewater Peoples I would probably believe it. But in a more visceral, engaging sense – in the sense that this is a collection of songs and you are meant to listen to and enjoy – How Far Away is a far better album than Days or Worry. There is the occasional abrupt reminder that you are listening to an album by a member of Real Estate – for example the Jersey Turnpike wandering guitar line that opens “Rhythm Shakers” – but Alex Bleeker and the Freaks are largely borrowing from a wider, more socially homogenized set of indie groups for How Far Away. Who would have thought that the results could be so engaging? How Far Away is not going to be anyone’s favorite album, but it is a collection of eleven songs that I am eager to go re-listen to once I finish writing this.