Monday, May 16, 2016

At Night, Alone. | Mike Posner

Well, I'll be damned: Mike Posner still exists. And he doesn't just exist; he somehow revived his career six years removed from a one-off hit that now sounds very 2010. Good for him.

Remember the running jokes Kathy Griffin has had about Justin Timberlake pre-The 20/20 Experience and Justin Bieber post-birth and their clear desires to be badass, inner city thugs? Mike Posner was the Dollar General version of whatever those two were doing, spiked with a painfully "college guy" persona. But like Timberlake, Posner holds this mindset no longer; on At Night, Alone., he's a fragile acoustic singer-songwriter with a voice as thin as a piece of cheap filler paper. Well, kind of; he's also an electronic dance remix vocalist? (I didn't say his revival hasn't been a strange one.)

Tacked on the end of the base twelve tracks (so, the album he turned into the label) are six remixes (so, the tracks the label commissioned to try to sell the album), including the SeeB remix of "I Took a Pill in Ibiza." Strange? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Without the incentive of those remixes closing out the album, the base tracks would be an even bigger chore to sit through than they already are; not a single one of them strays from an acoustic guitar-bogged blueprint and every one of them is soaked with melodrama, self-pity, and even more melodrama.

Posner has had a rough time between his initial breakthrough and now: the celebrity lifestyle struck him, depression kicked in, and two full albums were scrapped. On At Night, Alone., he gives us a straightforward rundown of the past half-decade of his life; he did some hip drug with Avicii, he wrote some songs for Bieber and Snoop, he passed up an opportunity to sign with Jay-Z's Roc Nation, he slept with some girl on Lydia's couch (no, I'm not sure who Lydia is, either), he wants to be buried next to his father in Detroit, he overestimates his own songwriting talent on more than one occasion... The wallowing is exhausting after a while, even in this abridged format, don't you think? Conversational lyrics, I don't mind. Alessia Cara and Twenty One Pilots have most recently mastered that art on their own respective radio hits. But while Posner's storytelling is conversational, it's static, and that's where we run into problems; what we need is even just one indication of growth. Who cares what happened to him when his stories are void of morals?

Electronic dance music since time immemorial has been the reigning proof, though, that some synthesized shrubbery can cover up the cracks of average lyrical handiwork. On the base tracks, Posner did the opposite thing that he should have; instead of distracting us from the lyrics, he shuns most instrumentation and ensures his words are the only elements on which we can focus. Ah, but the additional six tracks swoop in and save the day at the tail end of the record; "Ibiza" clearly underwent an incredible transformation, as did "Not That Simple" and "Silence." All six remixes, however, feel, well, like remixes -- not meant to constitute one-third of an album, they hold no consistency. And on the remixes, Posner's vocals are nowhere near as pure as they are on the original tracks; they're sped up and fuzzy, making the tracks seem like they were mixed by a teenager with a filtered a cappella track on Audacity. Most importantly, remixes tacked onto the end of an album should never have to be considered the best portion -- well, except here, I suppose.

I promise I even followed Posner's spoken direction at the beginning of the record: I listened to it at night, alone. Still didn't make it any better. There are some promising moments -- "Be As You Are" is one of the few original tracks that doesn't sound like a demo take, and "Not That Simple" (in both original and remixed forms) shares an all-too-familiar sentiment in a fairly decent manner -- but again, remixes shouldn't carry an album as they do here. I get what he tried to do here, and I really do appreciate the effort. It's just a shame that the effort didn't translate into tracks that resonate without some slick radio remix tactics.

At Night, Alone. is out now through Island Records. Standard and Target-exclusive pressings are available.

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