Review: alice – how to be a human being

this review was wriotten for DJBroadcast in February but didn’t make it to their new website, which is a shame in my opinion, so here you go

alice - how to be a  human being

On his first long-player, alice spews out bunch of mercurial, febrile tracks which are unable to be predicted. Paradoxically, how to be a human being is coherent in its inconstancy and provides an apt impression of what’s going on inside minds of contemporary human beings.

Thomas McConville is an Irish composer and visual artist making both acoustic and electro-acoustic music. At the beginning of 2015, he released his first solo album, which got a direct significant appreciation when included in Warp Records 25th anniversary BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix. Even though alice has been working on the songs for the last couple of years, the album sounds considerably actual and focuses on the contemporary trends in experimental electronic music as well as personal experience within the digital era.

The album cover includes just one colour – rich, warm yellow. According to psychology of the colours, yellow is the color of new ideas and new ways of doing things, which corresponds with the musical content of the album. But so do other charachteristics connected with the chosen colour, like anxiety, impatience and impulsivness. In addition, yellow is also a colour of emoticons, which links the album even more directly with the present of distructed communications and switching realities between the creen of your computer, smartphone, your own mind and the actual physical one.

how to be a human being (written in small letters, because who does use capitals nowadays anyway?) gives us an accurate angle on the question which alice raises with the album’s name. According to alice, being a human being is chaotic, peculiar and unstable. His musical guide shows that as a contemporary human being, you can often feel feverish, sick and insecure and that fragments of old memories will mix with new impressions into eclectic blend over which you have minimal control.

From the very first track, swishy 8-bit squeaks and blasts of digital noise disgorge without warning. alice often uses neurotic changeovers similar to Arca (‘puds – ad break’, ‘Moustache’, ) and jazzy saxophone and drum samples with occasional microsamples of vocals. Additionally, alice mixes artificial grainy and crunchy sounds with organic ones like clapping, finger snapping or straw slurping (‘Lugs’), which appear and dwindle in a stream of something which resembles a sonified stream of bytes. On the top, he stacks broken beats shrouded in misty electric hum. Tracks like ‘Cecilia’or ‘Daddy says it’s like a teddy on LSD ’ remind me a bit of one of alice’s favourites, Aphex Twin – ‘Cecilia’ slowly transforms in a downtempo mystery, the second track mentioned is based on a rattling beat, created around unsettling high pitch synthy melody.

It’s quite obvious that alice is a fan of Sophie and Aphex and I also had to think of other related artists as Sharp Veins, TCF , Tlaotlon or ornine while listening to the album. Music by alice and other artists‘ mentioned above somehow reflects how new media and interactive technologies have changed human thinking and behaviour: it’s harder to hold a though or concentrate for a long time, because our minds roam from one thing to another, sometimes whithin millisecond. This neverending, incoherent and often random stream of thoughts and actions is well embodied in alice’s debut album. Listening to it is an entertaining and unpredictable experience, but on the other hand, it’s quite easy to get lost in that binary mess and lose your concentration. Which is eventually perfectly fine, since we are all just human beings.

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