In a basement under a commercial development in downtown Hamilton, Ontario Aron D’Alesio set to work each night. Removed from distractions and almost invariably alone he would settle in, focusing on minute details as he tinkered, intent on managing each aspect of performance and tone as he meticulously fit the interlocking layers of his arrangements together piece by piece. Despite working as a musician—writing, recording and touring with the band Young Rival since he was barely out of high school—it was the first time D’Alesio had explored music making outside of a collaborative context, and counter-intuitively, working in isolation in a windowless room at the time when most of the world is asleep had a way of dissipating what had been a mounting sense of alienation that had become a byproduct of his creative work.
The cyclical nature of being in a band - the distance between writing something, recording it, and its eventual release - was at odds with D’Alesio’s inclination to be constantly engaged with his creative pursuits. It was this relentless creative energy that drew him to his makeshift basement studio night after night, where he developed what would become his self-titled debut LP, a collection of ethereal, imaginative, self-contained songs perhaps best described as bedroom pop, despite their basement origins.
“The way music works in the context of a band feels really slow, and there’s a sort of process of alienation from what you’re making that happens in that context,” D’Alesio says. “I was feeling increasingly frustrated and unfulfilled by it, but this project was immediately different. I’d go into the studio every night and I wouldn’t walk away until it was done. Normally I’d leave as the sun was coming up, or sometimes I’d just sleep there. I guess I could have tried to figure out something more convenient, but I’m a frugal bastard, and I quite quickly found that between 2 and 6 in the morning was my most productive time. I’d just get going and it was nice to be free from anything that would take me out of it.”
That the record was made in bouts of intense focus is evident in the knotty density, and unique sonic direction of its 13 tracks. Tones and ideas drift in and out of the songs, and there’s an almost eerie patience in evidence in the way the arrangements are constructed, often moving from a crystalline minimalism into heady maximalism and back in a short span - what appears to be a stripped down, one voice and guitar arrangement gradually slides away to reveal a warped, Beach Boysesque vocal harmony on lead single “Diamond Ring,” or the way the loose Buddy Holly-inspired stomp of “Where You Going To” bursts without warning into an impenetrable thicket of inter-laced guitar leads.
The unusual sonic quality of his debut album is likely the result of a degree of naiveté that D’Alesio brought to the recording process, in combination with an interesting collection of influences that creep in and out of the songwriting and the arrangements. There are moments that recall the faraway quality of early Everly Bros or Ink Spots recordings, the kitchen sink, lo-fi experimentalism of Thought for Food-period The Books, the driving minimalism of Suicide, and the muted grandeur of The Walkmen’s early records, but for D’Alesio, who is almost reflexively humble, there was little thought to the elements that shaped the record outside of the basement where it was made, as he focused instead on his own process, and finding his way towards what felt natural.
“Making this was intense for me but I found it quite meditative and it made sense for me as I was just trying to make everything serve the songs rather than convenience or any other concerns,” he says. “When I first started I wasn’t sure it was going to work this way, or if it made sense to make something so involved but in the end I don’t think it could have worked any other way. I was just trying to make an interesting record and I did what I could do.”