Music is a subjective experience, and usually, when I’m about to review any body of work, I try to envision the people who will connect to the project even if I can’t. Before listening to Dove Cameron’s EP, Alchemical: Volume 1, I’d already heard a handful of songs – “Boyfriend,” “Lethal Woman” and “Sand” to be precise – and I loved their energy. I would call two fearless and the other gentle and vulnerable. But goth-pop is not my familiar territory, and while most of my friends adored Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday, it’s simply not my cup of tea. That’s just how far removed I am from all things goth – minus dressing up like the occasional corpse bride.
There would be a however inserted here if I hadn’t heard most of the singles from the album and admired them. Needless to say, I went into this album with high expectations. “Lethal Woman” down, and I loved hearing the loud production and cackle once again (honestly, there are so many ways to be wicked, if you get what I mean).
While she tends to claim “FRAGILE THINGS” as her most vulnerable song on the record, the honor should rightly belong to the fourth track “Sand,” which sees her sing, “You have more pieces of me than the desert has sand.”
It’s clear that Cameron pushed the edge of what it means to make experimental music, and while she did not come out completely unscathed, it presented a unique atmosphere in a world that’s starting to sound mainstream pop. “White Glove” especially did away with much of coherency, instead employing a production that jumbled harmonies and rap flow together. And yet, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on, it was a masterpiece. Her light and airy voice, soprano touches and hardened lyrics – “Four on the floor, make the whole house shake / Who needs friends anyway?” – prove that it’s high time we started counting Cameron as one of pop’s biggest contenders.
Alchemical: Volume 1 takes us from exploring her villainous streak to opening us up to her vulnerable soul, and while many may argue they are two opposing notions, I squarely believe that rebellion often follows heartbreak.
In an interview with NYLON, Cameron said: “The album has gotten a lot more vulnerable as I’ve allowed myself to be more honest with myself. You find yourself in more conversations like, ‘What would the lyrics be here if I was just to say the most gut-wrenching truth that everybody’s going to relate to?’ Then you’re face to face with your own stuff. A lot of stuff on the album is kind of ugly; things that I would’ve felt self-conscious sharing before, because it’s incredibly human and vulnerable. Now those are the songs that are my favorite.”
Originally planned as an EP, Alchemical was later made into a full-length project when its lead single “Boyfriend” took off on the charts. However, instead of releasing it as one album, Cameron and her team have decided to go with the two-step approach.
Sonically, this album stands apart from the rest. Lyrically, while I know its confusing lyrics are a style Cameron wants for this record, it meant that emotions were nearly dissociated from it.