Alex Winston: King Con Review

Alex Winston has got critics hot under the collar.

Music journalists have been unanimous in marking the Detroit-based chanteuse’s rising star, and within the first minute of listening to the opening track of her debut album King Con you can hear just what everyone’s so excited about.

Mixing knowingly twee sixties doo-wop warbles while channelling the spirit of Kate Bush and even Goldfrapp, Winston has formed an immensely strong record that’s as good as anything I’ve heard from the female solo genre in years.

Following her acclaimed mini-album recorded on grassroots production software GarageBand, King Con debut proper hears Winston take a step up in production values; working alongside esteemed producers such as Bjorn Yttling of Lykke Li fame and The Knocks.

It’s Charlie Hugall though, best known for his rollickingly bold production of Florence And The Machine, whose presence can be felt most keenly on King Con with racks like Velvet Elvis and Sister Wife aping Welch’s familiar rousing choral sing-a-longs and satisfyingly clumpy beats.

Run Rumspringa, one of the standouts of the album, conjures the oompah piano beat of Imogen Heap, whilst excellent closer The Fold’s charming do-do-do chorus combines delicious swirling vibes with bluegrass banjo picking.

Banjo rears its no longer unfashionable head again on Medicine, this time offset with chugging beats, whilst the forthcoming single Fire Ant alternates between fast-paced hand-claps and a slow yet sticky blues line.

As if the breadth of musical vision wasn’t enough, Winston’s got one hell of a voice too. And it’s this purring instrument, which veers from warble to sneer taking in the charms of wailing and shrieking along the way that ties King Con’s musically disparate venture together; grounding the album with a vocal cohesion that’s all at once satisfyingly familiar yet still exotically beguiling.

The production and song-writing are truly outstanding. With its catchy chorus and Foals-esque instrumentals you know Sister Wife will be a hit the first time you hear it, Guts flirts with exotic melodies of the east and Choice Notes witnesses Winston’s voice warped and bent as a Dali painting.

The confidence and diversity of the music here is quite astonishing, making King Con feel like several different records at once; all jostling for possession in your ears with myriad different styles. Yet its mastery lies in the fact that all you’re really listening to is an album of well-crafted, intelligently-written indie pop.

There’s no denying Alex Winston’s merits. Her versatility and scope of musical influences displayed throughout King Con, coupled with some catchy pop songs and her outstanding voice, make her debut album such a stand out record.

And, to my ears at least, the strongest from a solo female artist since a flame haired siren showed us her Lungs back in 2009.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pop my collar before I get too steamed up.

Tom Hoare

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March 2012
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