Alex Napping are an indie pop act from Austin/NYC. Comprising of lead singer and guitarist Alex Cohen, guitarist Adrian Sebastian Haynes, bassist Tomas Garcia-Olano, and drummer Andrew Stevens, the band draw on fun, upbeat indie pop and use it to something a littler deeper and more personal. This means their themes are more existential in scope, the complex arrangements mirroring thorny problems of self-definition, love and evading traditional concepts of success and achievement. They released their sophomore album Mise En Place, back in May, an album which elucidates these themes perfectly. As we said in our preview, Alex Napping make songs “cast [not] in single shades of happiness or sadness, love or fear, rather everything at once, all mixed together with a double helping of doubt and the paradoxical yet persistent sensation that life can be be made easier, little by little”.
Opener ‘Tender’, with its steadily grooving bass, is a taut and restrained pop song, slowly unspooling across its five minute runtime as Cohen’s vocals are joined by edgily whirring guitars. ‘You’ve Got Me’ is all angular melodies and sweet layered vocal harmonies, the simmering sense of tension tearing at the centre two-thirds in, the track wigging out in a squall of guitar and Dessner-style pounded percussion.
“Daily, daily or nightly
Darling, darling so slightly
Honey, honey you’ve got me
Honey, honey you’ve got me”
‘Fault’ begins stripped back and noodly, a poolside summer afternoon of a track, but evolves and expands across its five minutes, like a poppier take on the Paper Bee album we liked so much last year. ‘Living Room’ finds Alex Napping at the height of their powers. Part wistful indie rock, part wide-screen dream pop a la Beach House, the song acts as the album’s thematic centrepoint, Cohen ruminating on shared spaces both real and perceived. Yet, while understandably morose and a little brooding, there’s a lightness to the track too, something within individual notes or Cohen’s lyrics which floats above the most frustrated moments. As such, the track feels less like a chronicle of a disintegrating relationship than the beginning of a process of self-examination, of moving forward, of weighing things up day-by-day and acting accordingly. This sense of purpose is highlighted in the closing refrain, which sounds like a long-lost pop hit fronted by Patti Smith.
“There’s a living room
Filled with all of our stuff
I can’t get it to move
Without unsettling dust”
The final song, ‘Heart Swells 2.0’, reigns things in a little, a sober but not downbeat ending that feels like a lull of clear-headed acceptance of what has come before.
On Mise En Place, Alex Napping somehow manage to marry the immediacy of good pop songs with a slow-burning complexity, proving that meaningful songs can still be fun, and that great pop songs need not be a simple shallow sugar rush. You can get Mise En Place now on vinyl from Father Daughter Records, cassette tape from Sports Day Records or digitally from the Alex Napping Bandcamp page.