How Far Away is a pleasant album, expertly arranged and well recorded, but for a folk-based album that ruminates on the demise of a relationship, there just doesn’t feel like there is enough at stake.
When Alex Bleeker isn’t playing bass for his main band, Real Estate, he records his own songs as Alex Bleeker and the Freaks. The Freaks consist of a rotating cast of band mates, including at times other members of Real Estate, and mainly serve to accentuate the songs Bleeker writes. He traffics in the same type of mellow indie rock that Real Estate does but with a rootsier sound; the songs are more Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, and Nash than Yo La Tengo and the Feelies. His newest album How Far Away is a pleasant, clean sounding record with a narrative about a recent relationship that went sour. This is a folk album. Almost every song is based around an acoustic guitar and all of the additional instrumentation is present to serve the song.
How Far Away kicks off with “Don’t Look Down”, the best song on the album. The theme of “Don’t Look Down” is sad, reminiscing about the beginnings of a recently lost relationship but its one of those songs that takes depressed subject matter and turns it in to a song so catchy, it becomes life affirming. Bleeker sings in a J Mascis moan and with the acoustic instrumentation, the song calls to mind something off Green Mind-era Dinosaur Jr. “Leave on the Light” is an all-out country song, complete with aching pedal steel guitar, piano, and female vocal harmonies. Throughout this album, Bleeker longs for a past relationship, continuously searching for a meaning or some type of epiphany. However, lyrically he never quite captures any sort of revelation or meaning. He attempts to tell us stories about this lost love but the words leave more to be desired, too simplistic to capture any feelings that are deeper than one-dimensional longing.
“Home I Love” is a quiet, distant song, with reverbed vocals and guitars that come closest to the style of indie rock he helped make popular with Real Estate. “Rhythm Shakers” is a standout soft rock jam that recalls the Grateful Dead with a lead guitar line throughout that’d make Jerry Garcia proud. “All My Songs” is in the vein of a I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes song with a great line that says, “I hope I never feel that you don’t love me too / But lately you don’t say that you do." However, elsewhere in the song, the lyrics do not hold up. The lines “I should’ve called to let you know / I never should’ve let you go / I know it sounds cliché / But I’m OK / It’s easy to run away” don’t really say anything and they certainly won’t resonate with someone feeling the same emotions that Bleeker is trying to describe here. “Who Are You Seeing” is an ethereal folk song with a celestial solo that gorgeously glides through the instrumental haze.
How Far Away is a pleasant album, expertly arranged and well recorded. As he shows with “Don’t Look Down” and “Who Are You Seeing”, Bleeker is capable of writing memorable melodies. The album’s biggest flaw is on the lyrical front. Bleeker has trouble articulating any sort of deeper understanding or growth that comes from the perspective gained after losing someone you truly care for. His ruminations are very one-dimensional and the words often have a childish worldview. Themes consist of who are you hanging out with in “Who Are You Seeing”, you don’t love me anymore in “All My Songs”, or I wish things could go back to how they were in “Steve’s Theme”. He never attempts to talk about why the relationship may have ended or search for any deeper meaning in love and companionship.
For an album that ruminates on the loss of such a huge relationship in Bleeker’s life, there just doesn’t feel like there is enough at stake. Conor Oberst often makes music in the vein of Alex Bleeker, but Oberst’s words are alternately revelatory and harrowing, embellishing stories that don’t just effect your outlook on love and life but effectively change it. Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is also a meditation on the dissolution of love. However, instead of simply longing for his former lover and their past relationship, he searches for a meaning in the challenges and complications that come along with loving someone. He captures the humanity in love. Whether the songs are autobiographical or complete fiction is irrelevant because the themes are universal. Great albums that meditate on these subjects will change your life. How Far Away isn’t a bad album by any means but it won’t change your life.