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Alex Lahey toys with a lighter palette on third outing The Answer Is Always Yes

"The Answer Is Always Yes"

Release date: 19 May 2023
Alex Lahey The Answer Is Always Yes cover
20 May 2023, 09:00 Written by John Amen

Alex Lahey’s 2017 debut I Love You Like A Brother spotlighted her punk roots and affinity for catchy tunes.

With her second album, 2019's The Best of Luck Club, Lahey traded in her garage sensibilities, instead plunging into the power-pop playbook. Her latest LP, The Answer Is Always Yes, shows Lahey collaborating for the first time with other writers and producers. The result is a lighter palette – sonics relatively subdued, mixes less raucous – the Australian singer-tunesmith revelling in hook-laden songs while integrating humour, wistfulness, and the desire to party.

The project opens with the Sheryl Crow-indebted “Good Time” (think “Leaving Los Angeles” crossed with “All I Wanna Do”). Lahey expresses her joy regarding the end of Covid, appointing herself an MC for the post-quarantine soiree. On “Congratulations”, meanwhile, she addresses an old partner. “So happy for your perfect life”, she slurs. Bringing to mind Alanis Morrisette’s jealous-ex anthem “You Oughta Know”, Lahey eschews Morrisette’s threatening tone, instead balancing sincerity and sarcasm, determined to sound as if she’s “doing just fine.”

Merging comedic and documentarian impulses, Lahey offers “Shit Talkin’” as a portrait of the way couples often trash other people when they’re alone, her voice framed by crunchy guitars and metronomic drums. “Permanent”, meanwhile, is built around a folksy strum. Toward the end of the track, the piece gains in volume and density, Lahey’s guitars louder and more distorted. “Tell me that’s it all right / and then we’ll go,” she sings, pivoting from a sanguine tone to one of urgent frustration, reminiscent of Indigo De Souza’s oscillations between glib diarist and sublime confessions.

“They Wouldn’t Let Me In” is one of the more stylistically distinct tracks on the album, featuring Lahey’s versatility as she incorporates new-wave tones, alternating between riffy rhythms and melodic flourishes. Her vocal effuses a drawly urgency a la fellow Australian Courtney Barnett. The verses of the closing title song borrow melodically from Plain White T’s’ “Hey There Delilah”, Lahey again processing her feelings and hopes for an improved social order post-pandemic. “I don’t want it all to be / the way it was before it changed,” she declares, accompanied by a feedback-soaked guitar.

With The Answer Is Always Yes, Lahey’s songcraft (solo and collaborative) takes centre stage. Some listeners may miss the rawer sounds and leanings of her debut and the instrumental adventurousness of her second album, as Lahey wends her way through a less incendiary and more restrained sequence. Still, she employs volume dynamics skillfully, her melodies are consistently enrolling, and her lyrics, at once colourful patter, empathetic pep-talk, and a vehicle for catharsis, are aptly accessible.

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