Neil Dexter describes ‘I’ll Be Ready’, the title track of his debut album, as a “Frankenstein composition” composed of three different ideas in one track. I wouldn’t, though – Frankenstein implies something ugly and cobbled-together.
What this title track and indeed the entirety of I’ll Be Ready represents is more of a mosaic – a litany of ideas smashed apart and reformed into one larger, bolder piece. That’s the case with so much of I’ll Be Ready; so many splinters of ideas, influences, moods and textures, rearranged into a cohesive pattern that shows a mastery of sonic architecture and design.
The stand-out element of nearly every song on the whole record is the luscious, dense texturing of synths, vocals and guitar. Digging through the layers of each song is a real treat – every listen lets you separate the differences to spot something new. ‘Loving You’ is a great demonstration, having finished three listens before spotting a catchy little guitar part that had escaped previously.
At the same time, there can be a certain amount of detail lost when wading through these dense soundscapes, with some vocal lines adrift in the sweeping waves of synth and choir pads. The interesting lyricism of ‘Don’t Question It’ floats by too quickly under the sonic surface to decipher in a meaningful way, while ‘Alpha’ features a saxophone solo which feels like it’s going to steal the show but is suddenly shot out of the sky by a snazzy bit of production. On occasion, the clever texture work can even make different songs difficult to tell apart.
Some variation in the synth sounds and experimentation with different vocal tones and effects might be just the ticket to add more variety – however, where there is variety (‘Come Back Again’, ‘Loving You’), the album feels really alive, expressing the genius of the musicality on the pedestal it deserves.
Trying to spot influences in Dexter’s work is a fun game – so many sounds feel familiar in a “je ne sais quoi” sort of way. The LCD Soundsystem-style synths and beats in ‘Robert Wyatt’ are countered beautifully by soaring vocals, reminiscent of Let’s Dance era David Bowie or Disintegration style Cure. ‘I’ll Be With You’ pulls the best parts of the Beach Boys in its organs and choir vocal textures. There’s a huge amount of influence informing every aspect of the record while still feeling wholly original.
Perhaps the most endearing element of I’ll Be Ready is the variety of instrumentation on display throughout. The album on the whole features quite consistent sounds – the same synth pad appears in several songs, the same vocal texture appears again. This is dangerous territory, yet the genius stroke here is the clever distribution of interesting instrumental parts. ‘Alpha’ brings in the saxophone at the perfect moment to rescue the track from stagnation, while the piano is a starring instrument in both ‘Come Back Again’ and ‘I’ll Be Ready’.
There is a huge amount of technical ability on show throughout I’ll Be Ready, with some really sleek bass lines on tracks like ‘Loving You’ which would make it a mainstay of any indie disco. ‘Don’t Question It’ boasts a fun groove from the off while staying dark and mysterious regardless. The piano work aforementioned stands out, but the guitar work is really the thread which sews tracks like ‘Loving You’, ‘Robert Wyatt’ and ‘We’ll Be There’ together. In fact, guitar is probably what makes ‘We’ll Be There’ the standout track on the album. With crisp production and beautiful vocals sung in a male-female duet, the song ascends to the next level with the squealing guitar sound feedback at its core.
All in all, there’s an abundance of musical wizardry and attention grabbing moments throughout I’ll Be Ready. Neil Dexter has no shortage of ideas and no shortage of ability to express them – I’ll Be Ready will have you looking forward to hearing whatever springs to Dexter’s mind next.