Alexander McKenzie & the Underpaid (CAN/NL)

The volume of positivity on Alexander McKenzie’s new album ‘Ambivalence’ had been turned up, but the melancholy still lurks in the dark corners of her songs. Portraits of lost love, sorrow, doubt, weakness and strength grab you by the throat. ‘I discovered that frustration and negativity didn’t have to be expressed in every element of a song. Contrast within a piece sometimes better convey the emotion behind it.’ The common denominator in all of the songs is the lyrics, and she is her lyrics, personified. Alexander is the embodiment of contradiction; there’s a need for stability that exists alongside a desire to explore the unknown. She left her home country at age 20 to discover Europe, but she often longs for the vast emptiness of her native Canada. ‘I’ll take minus 30 and a cloudless blue sky over 10 degrees and rain any day.’ Strangely, it wasn’t the endless quietude of the prairies that cultivated her songwriting, but rather the noisy traffic of Holland that awakened this late bloomer’s burgeoning creativity. The collaboration with Dutch musicians has yielded an uncommon output of inspiration. ‘The Underpaid develops the creative arrangements and productional elements. We often like to leave things empty so as not to crowd the essence of a song.’ Alexander’s lyrics, at times direct, at times cryptic, remain at the core of the matter. When she appears to be losing her sense of gravity, the resonant tones of the Underpaid coax her back to the surface of the earth, bringing into balance the conflicting emotions within the songs. ‘If everything is heavy, then the sum of all parts becomes even heavier. The enticement of melancholy will always be there, but I’m no longer afraid to be happy, though it does sometimes feel rather dangerous.’

Poignant melancholy and nostalgic cynicism, translated by stirring vocals and a dynamic instrumental sound: Together with her band, the Underpaid, Alexander McKenzie is on a quest to discover the perfect alloy of misery and joy. This journey has been documented by the recordings: ‘Ribcage Versus Unguided Missile’ (2008), and ‘EP1′ (2010) and ‘Ambivalence’ (2012).

the Underpaid: Ingmar Spaaij & Evert Aalten