Alex Winston | King Con
Most likely to: make her grandmother proud.
Kate Bush has only one actual physical child, but when it comes to artistic offspring she’s about as fertile a Myrtle as anyone is likely to find. The mixture of prog, post-punk, singer-songwriter and theatrical music hall traditions that she concocted three decades ago on The Dreaming remains one of the great visionary leaps in the history of pop music and it’s a vision whose nooks and crannies will likely still be giving up secrets and insights decades from now.
The legions of Kate’s children range from those bearing an obvious family resemblance like The Cocteau Twins, Tori Amos, Bjork, CocoRosie, Joanna Newsom, Florence Welch and 99% of everyone who ever trod the stage of the Lilith Fair. Less obvious branches of the Bush family tree are My Bloody Valentine, Outkast, Animal Collective, Radiohead, Flaming Lips and Atlas Sound – really, anyone who has ever tried to marry the seemingly unmarriageable strains of punk austerity and prog opulence while maintaining their own unique identity in the process ought to be sending Kate Bush a nice card every Mothering Sunday (which this year was on March 18 in the UK, so maybe next year the ingrates will remember).
24-year-old Michigander Alex Winston falls squarely in the “doesn’t she look a lot like Grandma?” camp. King Con, Winston’s full-length debut, is full of catchy but slightly askew pop hooks, thundering percussion butting up against sedate grooves, songs covering all sorts of quirky topics ranging from jealousy among polygamist wives to Amish teenagers out on Rumspringa, and massively layered choirs of Winston’s own, often helium-powered voice.
King Con is pretty instantly engaging in its youthful exuberance. Winston has inherited Bush’s (and Amos’) complete fearlessness to risk sounding silly or melodramatic as she gooses her voice into leaping into places saner minds might tell her to avoid, as well as Florence Welch’s penchant for anthemic pop rousers. That combination makes songs like “Sister Wife” and “Medicine” (with its defiant chorus of “I WON’T TAKE MY MEDICINE!!!!”) about as irresistible as cake batter ice cream delivered to you by puppies on a hot summer day.
What really lifts Winston above other young singer-songwriters treading similar territory (besides such obvious things as better songs and an ability to somehow imbue a voice that recalls the creepy adolescent chirp of Alison Shaw of Cranes with the whiskey growl of Amy Winehouse) are the oddly incongruous touches she layers into her songs. “Fire Ant” alternates between a rinky-dink toy piano riff and hyperactive drums while a male chorus lifted straight from Martin Denny’s faux-exotica echoes everything she sings. “Velvet Elvis” continues the exotica motif while Winston calmly coos that she’s going to “kill the bitch that bats an eye” at her beau, before erupting into another furiously percussive chorus.
Alex Winston is the best kind of artsy – she’s kooky and a bit daft but is way too much fun to ever be threatening or intimidating. Everything she does on King Con is delivered with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. She’s a serious artist who’s way too confident in her abilities to take being a serious artist seriously – sort of like her spiritual Grandma Kate when she’s sitting down to write songs about the eroticism of doing the laundry or turning into a mule to chase ghosts out of the house.
Check out the animated video for “Fire Ant”: