Toronto-based singer-songwriter Alex McCulloch has released her debut full-length album, A Strange Sense of Humour, and it’s something spectacular. The record is a well-rounded portrait of a life filled with bits of Canadiana and the modern world, and it’s a captivating entity that I often find hard to come by. It’s polished and well-done, something far better than you’d expect from a self-released debut – Alex sounds more like a musician with decades of experience than a young woman high off the release of her first LP.
The album starts off with ‘Depression,’ a shiny, catchy tune that instantly alerts the listener, pulling them in and allowing them to warm up to the artist. I adore the contrast of stark honesty and impeccable production, and that thread of similarity runs through the entirety of the record. A song called ‘Empty House’ follows, and at times it’s nearly gritty, pulling at your heart strings and dripping with unfiltered emotion. It’s not often that such depth of feeling is showcased so plainly to the world.
McCulloch weaves worlds with her words, displaying her talents as an artist by painting pictures with her voice. It’s difficult to listen to A Strange Sense of Humour without crafting visions in your own mind, easily inserting yourself into the narrative of the record itself. One of my favourite tracks on the album, ‘Butterfly’, rouses brightly lit images of a relationship clouded by the haze of summer, while ‘A Light Goes Out’ contrasts it with dim bars and long nights.
Other album highlights include ‘Genesis’ and ‘One Time Show’. The former is rhythmic and engaging, a track that moves effortlessly through dynamic melodies and great lyrics. The latter is a slower, harmonica-backed ballad that shows off McCulloch’s vocal range beautifully, highlighting the ease with which she moves through each word. The album closes out with a trio of live tracks and demos, and the addition of the rawer, stripped-back songs makes the record feel more intimate and real. You can tell that McCulloch sings straight from real life, drawing experiences out of her heart and mind and soul and sharing them with her audience like some kind of self-led therapy. At times it can feel like she’s reading pages from your own journal, and although the tales she tells can be remarkably personal, they’re also believably universal.
It’s beyond inspiring to listen to a woman bare her every emotion, laying her thoughts out like puzzle pieces to be linked together by the audience. A Strange Sense of Humour is a phenomenal debut – it’s effortless, it’s complete, and it engages the listener from the very beginning. Already, Alex McCulloch seems to be in a league of spectacular singer-songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves in the best way.