Showcases Lahey’s gift for earworm melodies.
Alex Lahey’s debut EP, B-Grade University, was a tour through her life in Melbourne with the slacker haze and eye for quotidian detail of a Richard Linklater movie. Its single, the chugging “I Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” became a breakout hit thanks to its candor and fuzzy sledgehammer of a chorus. Her full-length debut, I Love You Like a Brother, picks up where that track left off, hewing a bit closer to a beefed-up, Alt Nation-suitable anthemic sound but still showcasing Lahey’s gift for earworm melodies and incisive lyrics lifted directly from her life.
Like a Brother’s lead single, “Every Day’s the Weekend,” kicks off the record and feels like a sequel (or prequel) to “I Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” albeit with a more robust budget. B-Grade wasn’t lo-fi, but it certainly had a DIY sensibility that her LP largely sheds in favor of a larger, more developed sound. Here, the production is richer and deeper, more rounded out on the low end with a bright bass line that doubles the guitar and kinetic percussion (though it holds up quite well in acoustic form). It also typifies the rest of the record; where B-Grade showed us Lahey dealing with post-grad malaise, Like a Brother deepens our understanding of the 24-year-old singer-songwriter through snapshots of her relationships, meaning we get to know the people she’s ever had cleanskin wine and watched Mulholland Drive with, warts and all.
Though the album has some quieter moments on the back half, it gets off to a rollicking start, as the title track, “Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder” and “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself” run back-to-back-to-back. The latter is one of the album’s best moments, lyrically it’s both dramatic (“Is this blood on my hands or is it just red wine?” and frank (“I’ve gained weight and I drink too much/ Maybe that’s why you don’t love me as much?”), while the instrumentation oscillates between bright synth plucks on the verses and pre-hook to her more quintessential wall-of-sound approach on the hook and outro.
Because it focuses a bit more outwardly than her previous work, I Love You Like a Brother does lack some of the specificity that made early tracks like “Ivy League” and “Wes Anderson” burrow into your mind with incredible efficiency. There are a few more “millennial whoop”-type moments here, and the idiosyncrasies occasionally feel ironed out, but Lahey has also improved across the board as a singer. She’s not only better at belting from the peak of her mountainous hooks, but she’s become more experimental with her intonation and delivery, particularly on the bittersweet “Backpack” and “Lotto in Reverse,” where her verses are restrained but seethe just beneath the surface with the indignation of feeling strung along and having nothing to show for it. From “Air Mail,” one of her earliest singles, to “Lotto in Reverse,” Lahey has always excelled at capturing the highs, lows and interminableness of love both near and far away; it’s one quality that makes her tracks so resonant.
The record closes on the sobering “There’s No Money,” a track that captures the pathos behind the album at large and also reintroduces that sense of small town inertia that guides so much of Lahey’s work. “My little brother’s married at 22/ My mother’s seeing someone new/ And I’m at home, looking after our cats/ My job pays me every second week/ Give me a day ‘til I’m back in the green,” she sings. From “Every Day’s the Weekend” to “There’s No Money” to B-Grade cuts like “Ivy League,” Lahey has always done a keen job of capturing the blend of ceaseless anxiety and apathy of being young and low on funds. It’s a departure from the rest of the record, both because of its subject matter and its arpeggiated chords and programmed beats, but it quickly rounds into a track that expands the universe of Like a Brother and concludes the narrative rather than being at odds with it. “My baby’s out there twice a week/ Singing songs that are never about me/ We can’t marry even if we want to,” Lahey sings; she’s finally found someone but fate is still conspiring against them.
There’s so much heartache on I Love You Like a Brother that it feels wrong to call it joyous. But Lahey’s bright, booming choruses and infectious melodies are perfect medicine for the bitter pill of lost love. The push-pull of romance has always been an inspiration for songwriters, and while Lahey isn’t reinventing the wheel she does prove that her eye for lyrical detail, wit and ear for nestling melodies works just about as well in this context as they did on B-Grade University.