Prior to signing with Captured Tracks and recording the Time EP, Alex Calder was primarily known as Mac DeMarco’s partner in Makeout Videotape, a gauzy no-fi pop duo. But while DeMarco’s alternately sleazy and disarming personas were placed front and center on his first two solo releases, Calder remains more remote throughout Time. Distanced by the dense reverb that coats the EP, his plain vocals and naïve lyrics cast him as something of an overgrown, overly earnest Eagle Scout — the kind of kid who can’t approach a seemingly simple idea without uprooting it and exploring the network of worms underneath. Or, to put it in an appropriately Lynchian context, the curious type who can’t walk into a suburban field without finding a severed ear. Like in early Haunted Graffiti tapes, the feelings that typically populate pop songs bounce off each other in unpredictable ways in Calder’s work, and the emotional gray areas multiply.
Drain away the reverb bath, and it’s easy to imagine “Suki and Me” or “Light Leave Your Eyes” in the same light as Mac DeMarco’s mock ‘70s sitcom theme, “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name.” Cast adrift in cavernous echo, however, Calder’s caramelized, off-the-cuff melodies welcome free association from listeners. Despite their simplicity, these songs work as merry-go-rounds of sensation and sentiment, churning from off-kilter sweetness to a queasy approximation of the cycles of restlessness and inertia.
This tangle of conflicting moods is perfectly exemplified by the video for “Light Leave Your Eyes.” On paper, it reads like exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a young wiseass who’s almost certainly seen Ariel Pink’s “Gray Sunset” clip his fair share of times: found footage of what looks like an early-‘80s Halloween party is interspersed with shots of a shirtless, beer swilling Calder feigning beefcake poses. Yet, in execution, the humor and voyeurism collide in a way that’s bound to strike some viewers as funny while registering as an uncomfortable portrait of raw boredom to others.
That a song called “Lethargic” closes out the EP comes as no surprise. Calder’s music doesn’t have the airy carelessness you might expect from someone recording for a label whose flagship band is Beach Fossils. Time’s darker passages don’t find any romance in idleness, instead placing the listener in a world where moving from the bed to the couch represents an entire day’s work. Which isn’t to say this is an especially heavy listen. In fact, even in the more despairing moments, the atmosphere is buoyed by the unfussy, singsong melodies. Expectedly, the most promising thing about Calder’s debut is another contradiction; he can make us feel the weight of every one of his wasted seconds with a casual set of songs that seems to have been written in the span of a few minutes.