Written by Jason Hillenburg
Corban Koschak, working under the banner This Pale Fire, is a musical exponent from a, perhaps superficially, unlikely quarter. His New Zealand upbringing doesn’t put any sort of noticeable spin on his work but has allowed him to come of age in an incubator of sorts that fostered his talent more than might have proven possible in musical hubs like New York City, Los Angeles, London, et al. His brief tenure in the public spotlight has drawn favorable comparisons to Thom York, but he ultimately stands alone as a vocalist, musician, and songwriter. There’s an idiosyncratic quality defining the dozen songs on his first full length album Alchemy and enlisting the help of Levi Patel to realize the collection’s production needs. They have produced an artful and deeply emotional musical testament bubbling with the potential to send Koschak’s career into orbit.
The opener “Northern Lights” rings out with a great guitar sound and enormous delicacy. Koschak has an outstanding voice for this material and an obviously innate understanding of how to best frame it within a vocal melody, juxtaposed against a rich arrangement tied together with warm, sinewy guitar lines. There’s some light echo and reverb applied to the guitar on “Virago” and the six string melody has a slightly disjointed slant that sets the tune apart. There’s conventional and unconventional percussion alike providing a pulse for the song. Much of the rhythm track has a light snap reminiscent of typing on a manual typewriter while other sections of the song are anchored by a deep, yet ghostly pulse. “Float Out” is a much straighter affair than we’ve heard thus far and has appealing melodic virtues certain to find favor both on the recording and possible live performances. The same production style defining the earlier songs remains in full effect and does a particular excellent job of helping this cut stand out from the pack.
The hushed acoustic landscape opening “The Sky” has enough of a melodic hook to pull us in and Koschak’s voice introduced to the mix seals the deal. It’s a brief piece, not even clocking in at two minutes, and wafts by with intimate, elegiac grace. “Wolf” is, essentially, a solo performance as well with Koschak returning to the acoustic fueled musing of the aforementioned song, but there’s an added gossamer thin keyboard backdrop imbuing the arrangement with a dollop of color. Theatricality comes through a little more with the song “End of Science” and the unusual quality heard in its introduction translates into a fragile delicacy hinging on the melodic chemistry between Koschak’s voice and the other instruments. It’s one of the finest moments on Alchemy and culminates beautifully with some tasteful drumming and vocal work.
Keyboards and piano weave together to spectacular effect on the album’s finale “Outro”. As the title implies, the closing number is primarily instrumental, but Koschak’s singing and a fine, albeit brief, lyric adds to the song’s luster. It’s a near orchestral moment for This Pale Fire’s music and brings Alchemy to a suitably lyrical conclusion. Corban Koschak’s songwriting, musical, and vocal talents are far too immense to remained confined to his island home and his increasing global exposure will expand his scope and bring him the critical attention he richly deserves.