Australian expat Alexandra Sholler certainly has a knack for naming things. Besides the knowingly playful pseudonym of Alison Wonderland that she has adopted for her professional life, she chooses wonderfully pithy, yet evocative titles, for her releases. Unlike her first releases – 2014’s Calm Down EP and her 2015 début album, Run – which carried energetic and appellative titles, directing the audience in their response to the music, Sholler’s second album is more obliquely titled. As a title, Awake may lack the impetus of Calm Down or Run, yet it brims with possibilities and hints at revelations.
Awake does indeed contain some revelations, but of the small and personal variety, so anyone seeking to be “woke” will need to look elsewhere. The electro-pop vibe of No sees Sholler reject yes-men and hangers-on, Church reclaims self-worth in the face of those oblivious or hostile to it, while Easy reflects on pushing people away when you need their support. Despite the value of the ideas expressed in these tracks, as songs they never really grab the listener in the way they probably should, proving to be rather characterless affairs that may as well be delivered by whichever flavour of the month is currently topping the charts.
This is a shame as opening number, Good Enough, is nothing if not characterful. Sure, Good Enough has its shortcomings, primarily that its dramatic build is kind of pointless given that its anticlimax doesn’t feel intentional, but at least the layering of a quirky beat and dark strings feels like the work of a distinct artist. Okay and Here 4 U also offer up a distinctive sound, and it is this distinctiveness that has won Sholler the accolades she has accumulated over the past few years. Lead single, Happy Place, seems to be pitched at the crowds at festivals or in the club, while High featuring Trippie Redd is an acquired taste.
Aside from Trippie Redd, Buddy on Cry and Chief Keef on Dreamy Dragon are the only guest vocalists on the album, with Sholler putting more of herself as a vocalist into this album. This is definitely not a bad thing as when she is on point, as with the layering on Okay, the effect is stunning. Awake cannot be criticised from a production angle, as Sholler further bolsters her reputation in this department, but it nevertheless feels incoherent, jumping between beige and technicolour sounds and compositions. Overall, Alison Wonderland’s Awake has the uneven character of thoughts had while drifting to sleep, not the clarity of ones had while roused.