Step into Alena Spanger’s art-pop universe

Alena Spanger. Photo by Chelsea Wooten


Discover Blogly is The FADER’s curated roundup of our favorite new music discoveries.

Alena Spanger has been making ambitiously off-balance music for well over a decade. She was the lead singer of the NYC DIY indie band Tiny Hazard, whose early music tended to clatter between delicate melodies and squealing dissonance and eventually coalesced into something more luscious by their final release a half-decade ago. Back now under her own name, with a debut album, Fire Escape, out via Ruination on March 22, Spanger’s songs are as richly unpredictable as those early Tiny Hazard tracks, but her tricks are far subtler, her vocal flourishes, melodic feints, and unlikely arrangements adding up to something that rewards repeated listens.

The first two singles from Fire Escape showcased much of what makes Spanger’s music so immediately enticing. Her voice is playful but potent, and crucially she has the confidence and control to push it to its limits and pull it back to a whisper. On “Agios,” her voice itself becomes a commentary on the argument the song is about — “A fickle girl, a changing tongue,” she half-talks — and on “Difficult People,” an almost-ballad, she trapezes up and down her range. There’s something of Björk and Joanna Newsom to Spanger’s sound, but what she’s doing in her voice and her arrangements is more tangibly off this world, less ethereal.

Her latest single, “All That I Wanted,” is a weirder song than those two, more skittish, drum machines tripping over handclaps and synth bursts. Her chorus — “All that I wanted was to dance with you” — sounds almost joyful at first, but that’s just a thin veil for her frustration: “People think they know / But you’re just a mosquito / Draining me out / And I’m gonna fucking burst,” she sing-talks over layers of herself. I love that Spanger’s voice leading up to that moment, murmurs and breaths at the top of her register, mimics a mosquito at close range. In an email to The FADER, Spanger said that the song was inspired lyrically by Joan Armatrading’s “Love and Affection”: “Her lyric ‘but with a lover I can really move … I can really dance’ stuck with me when I was feeling claustrophobic in a relationship. It’s about the craving for an experience that is uninhibited by words or a compulsion to name and analyze.”

Fire Escape was recorded over a five-year stretch — it’s effectively a compilation of the music Spanger has been working on since Tiny Hazard disbanded — and it features production from Tiny Hazard’s Ryan Weiner, Carlos Hernandez (Ava Luna and Carlos Truly) and Winston Cook-Wilson (Office Culture). Julian Cubillos, teasea, Carmen Quill, Kalia Vandever, and Kitba (Rebecca El-Saleh) contribute, too. Spanger’s first music under her own name inevitably reflects all of that, bursting out in different directions, changing course from track to track. But even across these first three songs, Spanger sounds instinctive and unrestrained, communicating raw emotions in unexpected ways. If she can do all of that across nine minutes of music, imagine what she’ll do with a full album.