The last time we heard an Alison Carney solo recording, she was pretty subdued. Her four-song EP from 2008 was downtempo and heavy on familiar R&B themes: giving into romance, discovering new love, self-empowerment.
Three years later, the Northeast D.C. native sounds far removed from those earlier contemplative ballads. She’s still playing with electro-soul, but now the sound is a few paces quicker and a whole lot funkier. On AlisonWonderland—-Carney’s full-length solo debut, which is out today—-she channels a bit more hurt (themes of heartbreak abound) and a lot more liberation (musical, sexual) over an upbeat mixture of percussive break beats, breezy funk grooves, and spacey soul melodies. The result is efficient, genre-hopping, and unforced.
It is, indeed, something of a Lewis Carroll concept record: The protagonist falls down a rabbit hole to discover a vast fantasy universe. Sometimes the references are overt: “Off With Her Head” has a frenzied instrumental. Other moments are less Alice, more Alison, from the trippy, cartoonish cover art to the way her gentle soprano wraps around distorted bass lines (“Stellar”) and pounding drum loops (“I Wanna Rock”).
Contrast that to Carney’s 2008 EP, which was too sparse and too rooted in traditional soul music, putting Carney in the uncomfortable position of a typical R&B singer, when she’s weirder than that. AlisonWonderland is manic and hyper-chromatic, a bright backdrop for a vibrant and eccentric vocalist.
AlisonWonderland is available for free.