Portland, OR-based Alex Whiler is a lifelong singer, working in the musical theater, classical and opera genres. After a life-changing experience on the Pacific Coast Trail, she found that she had something to say, and expanded to writing. Whiler took her feelings of failure, confusion and heartache and poured them into the songs released on her debut EP, Look Me In The Eye.
Look Me In The Eye is a sandwich cookie of an EP. Think of it as a Hydrox, or a Mint Milano if that’s more your jam. The outside crunchy layers are the full-production numbers “Golden Hour” and “Into the Fire.”They’re engaging mid-tempo compositions where Whiler’s vocals shine in front of a solid rock combo; “Into the Fire” leans a little more modern-pop by including some fuzzy synth parts straight off the dance-club floor. Her lyrics make good use of imagery, and her harmonies are solid. “Golden Hour” is a little hampered by a monolithic mix--no instrumental parts are really highlighted until the cool keyboards on the ending fade.
The center filling of the EP cookie are the two piano-driven ballads “Wash” and “Mortar & Pestle.” They are pretty, heartfelt songs, and they’re layered with lovely string parts. In these recordings, you can hear the action of the piano’s dampers as she works the pedal; it gives the songs an extra-authentic touch, as if you’re sitting on the piano bench with her. “Mortar & Pestle” has some clever lyrics, too: “you knead me like dough / but you don’t need me at all.” The bizarre thing, for me, was the electronic effect added to some of the vocals, as if a talkbox were driven by a cello and then run into an autotuner. Whiler is blessed with pipes that don’t need studio wizardry, so this is an odd choice--I would have preferred to have the tension built with some dissonant harmonies or borrowed chords rather than a Pro Tools plug-in.
“Resolve” is that dollop of extra flavor that holds the whole cookie together and makes you want to grab another one from the bag. It’s a short piano-based instrumental with a little keyboard added in for extra ambience. This was my favorite cut, and it ties the album together nicely.
Look Me In The Eye is a fine start. Whiler’s voice is terrific, and her writing puts it to good use. I hope that she has more experiences to share with us, and that she’ll trust her voice to carry the songs without studio trickery. In the meantime, I’m going to grab another bite of this tasty EP.
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