The South Carolina Music Guide
Show Reviews

Corbett Alexander Plays Conundrum

The name is pasted together from the founders’ names. The lineup is strung together from previous bands, ranging from folk to metal. Yet with such a broad range to pull from, Corbett Alexander’s burgeoning sound feels like it was put together from an entirely different set of parts and could venture off in a variety of directions.

Corbett Alexander brought their evolving, atmospheric sound out for its first test drive at the Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia recently. The first thing that jumps out about their music is the guitar work. Guitarists Grady Rodgers and Christian Sewesky take the sound to a very interesting place. Guitars are drenched in effects. Chords are picked out note by note, with heavy delays that give the feel of bouncing around a room that is slowly morphing its shape through the chord progression. The second guitar plays a complimentary line and switches up the sound with a slide, or flange, or skillful volume pedal work. When effects-driven licks are traded in for chords, different voicings are used to create a fuller sound with a more distinctive shape. Taken by themselves, either guitar part could be laid over a droning keyboard track with a few bamboo flute licks and ride off into the sunset of electronica. However, when spun around each other, these two guitars form a binary system whose gravity pulls the sound away from an ambient feel and into a more rock and roll direction.

Traditional pop song structures and a focus on the vocals of Austin Lewis are other factors that help keep Corbett Alexander leaning more towards a flavor of alternative rock. The vocals on most of their songs begin with a pleasing, melodic mumbling of lyrics that rise into Lewis really singing out as the song builds. Eschewing group harmonies, a harmonizer pedal is used to synthesize backing vocals. This approach has both positives and negatives. On the positive side, backing vocals are always in tune and the lush harmonies blend well with the guitars to give both voice and instruments a presence at each point along the sonic range of the music. However, with Lewis often working in the lower part of his vocal range, the harmonies often muddy the lead vocal and obscure the lyrics. When Lewis is projecting more from the middle of his range, his voice can be powerful while remaining quite musical.

Atmospheric and intertwining guitar lines of the type that Corbett Alexander use can lead to a dragging feeling in the rhythm section. Drummer Preston Hall uses driving 8th- and 16th-notes to fill in the spaces and keep the songs moving toward a destination rather than meandering along, lost in the journey. Straight beats and upbeat shuffles are used to great effect. This insistent percussion work is combined with the tasteful bass-playing of Micah Hall to form a very solid foundation on which Corbett Alexander’s original songs are built.

Overall their performance was an impressively solid first effort. Time and experience in this lineup will improve the little things, such as reducing the downtime between songs and filling dead air with audience interaction. A better balance between Lewis’s natural voice and the harmonies will keep the lead vocal line from getting buried and will make the lyrics clearer. The solid grooves of their songs, the variety within those songs, and the uniqueness of Corbett Alexander’s sound will help to overcome any growing pains as they strive toward their potential.

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