After the release of his 2016 debut album Harlequin, Alex Izenberg went through a tumultuous period in his life. Beset by a failed relationship, emotional instability, and pressure to release a follow up, Izenberg has taken four years to complete and release his sophomore album, Caravan Château. The troubles of recent years find their way onto the album, lurking in the dark woozy passages and the lamenting croon of his voice; the breeziness of Harlequin is still there, but now it sounds like dusk is turning into a chilly night.
Adorned with a small crew of collaborators (from Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado to Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor), Caravan Château dips its toes in many sounds and styles. Opening track “Requiem” sports a jagged bluesy guitar twang that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tom Waits album; “Sister Jade” gets by with breezy Americana; and “Lady” (inspired by an instrumental song for a film by Ari Balouzian) gallops lightly on a “Take Five” lilt, with jazzy drums and a repeating piano shuffle. Once again Izenberg offers up a variety of sounds and timbres – be it the way a guitar note rings out or the way strings mush into a discordant ruin – and Caravan Château is undoubtedly a sonically interesting album to partake in.
But Izenberg’s compositions don’t always lend him any favours. They are considered, and everything feels deliberate (despite how sporadic it may be presented to be), but sometimes they don’t wander in any direction that makes for engaging listening. “Revolution Girls”, for example, speeds up its bluesy stomp half way through to no real avail or purpose, coming down into a cacophony of sludgy orchestral strings. Worse still is the middle section of the album, which gets lost in languid, dreamy states that, although full of pleasant orchestral flairs, fail to go anywhere at all really. “Dancing Through the Turquoise”, for example, stumbles upon some welcome analysis of the difference between love and lust (“Love is the girl and I am the one who tried”), but the plodding, damp piano chords and backtracked guitar notes lead the song nowhere.
At his best Izenberg keeps a track close to his chest so as not let it get away from him. Lead single “Disraeli Woman” is a chipper cut adorned with violin and accompanying female vocals that could almost be accused of being sung in too serious a tone considering its surroundings. “December 30th” paints a relatable scene where Izenberg recalls memories and images; there’s a spring in his step as the song progresses, and when the spiky guitar solo comes in to usher the song out, it actually sounds like there’s something at stake. The closing title track sends off the album on a bare note, with Izenberg hunched over his piano and a few light touches of flute here and there. There are echoes of Scott 2/Scott 3-era Scott Walker in his poetic turns of phrases (“Lady dancing on a daffodil / Let me be here next cigarette… Granite hearts fulfil my tongue”), and even though the listener might not quite grasp the meaning of it all, it’s still delightful to consider in the moment.
It would be wrong to say that Caravan Château is a thrilling or exciting album, but it’s doubtful that it ever set out to be. Izenberg never gives too much away (whether he’s talking about one woman across the album is anyone’s guess), but it’s a glimpse into a curious mind. For him “music is a lifeline, or the lens that helps [him] refocus the world and make sense of [his] mess of feelings,” and that feels spot on. He’s trying to connect strands of memory and feeling into something tangible and together. That considered construction is evident on Caravan Château, but it’s not always easy to follow how Izenberg got from one point to the other, or indeed why he chose that route.