Not long ago, we interviewed Claire Boucher (better known as Grimes) on this website, and the Canadian left us speechless with her categorical statement that she has never listened to Kate Bush. This is particularly surprising if we take two things into account: we are in the post-internet age, as she has christened this time (that is to say, this moment of cultural effervescence, in which you have decades and decades of music within reach at a single click), and – obviously - one can hear echoes of the British diva in her music. The same thing is true of one of the new stars of American indie pop, Alex Winston. Although their voices are fairly similar, Winston recently declared that she didn’t really get into the author of anthems like “Wuthering Heights”, until two years ago. Before, like a good citizen of Detroit, she had submerged herself in the Motown sound – listening to artists more or less in tune with this movement, such as The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. Although she has written songs since the age of 16 (she is now 24), her musical career really made a qualitative leap in 2009, when her mother moved to New York and she followed her in order to pursue her dreams. Does this ring a bell? It’s a well-known story, isn’t it? Yes, the Michigan performer has also been compared to Lana Del Rey, but besides “Guts”- in which Winston uses a very feline voice to begin with, very much in line with Lizzie Grant - there are no more parallels to be established.
Quickly supported by the team of producers The Knocks, she released three EPs on the Heavy Roc Music label. The first, “The Basement Covers”, from 2010, consisted of six covers of artists such as Jack Peñate, The Rolling Stones and Mumford & Sons. Last year came “Sister Wife EP” and “Velvet Elvis EP”, with which she managed to draw attention. Now “King Con”, her debut album, has just come out, this time via Island Records. On it, she has recovered five songs from her previous works and added seven brand-new pieces to the mix.
“King Con” lays its cards on the table from the beginning, with “Fire Ant”. It starts it off like a roll of thunder - thanks to some chimes that appear throughout the album - and here Alex Winston sounds as flirty as Lykke Li on “Youth Novels”. One can tell that her producer, Bjorn Yttling ( Peter Bjorn & John), is in the know. There are also nods to the Swedish princess on “Rum Rumspringa”, where percussion is emphasised, as if they wanted to make their very own “Get Some”. These are pieces of bubblegum pop that remind one of Matt & Kim at their least boorish (is “Choice Notes” not one of the most deliciously pop songs of the first few months of 2012?). As was to be expected, listening to so much Motown as a teenager has led Winston to give her compositions a very 60s air; like Cults (check out those “Woo-woo-woos” in “Sister Wife”) or the recent work by Tennis (she’s very Alaina Moore on the cover). In that sense, “Velvet Elvis” continues to be the song that defines her, one of the pieces that she has reclaimed from her earlier EPs. The sound has hardly changed. It was her intention to maintain a certain lo-fi halo, but at the same time make the songs sound bigger, which has worked for her.
This is a varied, fresh, and highly entertaining album. “Medicine” is pure joviality, spreading the same optimism as the Arcade Fire songs on which Régine Chassagne sings; proving that Alex Winston knows how to dress herself up as a folk singer-songwriter when she wants to. It’s hard for “King Con” to bore you in the short or middle-term. It’s impossible for her melodies not to stick in your head if you like pop at its most essential, and if you don’t get a crazy urge to sing and dance around your house when you hear “Locomotive”, then you must not have blood flowing through your veins. Pop diversion without pretensions, but with a lot of substance.