REVIEW: Alexei Shishkin - Yucca Street

Kelly Kirwan

Alexei Shishkin’s melodies are the stuff of bittersweet grey days—soothing and pensive, with deep, sultry vocals and lyrics that are at times laced with a light ennui. The Portland import established himself as a figure in the lo-fi alternative bracket roughly a year back, releasing the dog tape with Forged Artifacts and garnering attention for his diminutive and inviting malaise pop.

Now he’s back with the same label, a familiar vibe, and a new album, which will be bestowed upon us in digital and chrome cassette forms, because Alexei is a '90s throwback in more ways than one. Yucca Street is an eleven-track synthesis of Alexei’s lethargic baritone, deft guitar strumming (which sways between straightforward and blues-funky), and his wandering—and often angst-ridden—inclinations. 

Take, for instance, "Yucca Street," the album’s titular track. It begins with a street ambiance—the sounds of separate conversations merging in a fog of white noise, making us feel both immersed in these interactions while simultaneously looking in from the outside. It’s a sentiment that Alexei was aiming for, as his low, murmuring voice breaks through the background noise with, “I haven’t had a meaningful connection in years / Everyone always disappears / Or is it me?” It feels like the kind of song that was written while staring at the bedroom ceiling, the window open and the outside world drifting in. Shishkin has the detached delivery of someone contemplating their loneliness without drowning in it, and the effect can be downright cathartic.

In the words of Forged Artifacts themselves, Alexei’s apparent M.O. is to “stitch together a tapestry of past lives and hard truths.” It’s a theme that was present in the dog tape, and has splintered into a new strain on this current LP—moving between places and phases of life, and the push and pull of wanting change and missing what was. Take "Town," which shifts from "Yucca Street"’s is-everyone-together-without-me heartbeat and moves to a more direct, stay-with-me vulnerability.

It’s a surprise of a song, not just for its message, but for the piano accents and a melody that's easy like Sunday morning. While Shishkin lulls you in with soft, semi-reverb-tinged strumming, there’s also a vague kind of desperation that comes with an ending. The song is structured around mentions of time (“5 o’clock and the sun is down / And I won’t stop / Thinking about this town”) serving as a reminder that it’s exactly what we’re running out of.

Alexei Shishkin has mastered this growing-pains niche. Perhaps it's because he tackles the subject with an airy neutrality, and as a listener you, too, will start to shrug with acceptance. Yucca Street reveals the tinkering of a solo artist forging low-key, experimental sounds, and with this kind of thoughtful songwriting, you’ll want to explore right along with him.