Album Review: Paul Dempsey – Strange Loop (2016 LP)

It may have been seven years since Paul Dempsey released his solo album Everything Is True but halfway into “The True Sea”, the opening track on his 2016 release Strange Loop, you forget about the long period in between.

Its exploration of space and the loftiness of Dempsey’s vocal over seven and a half minutes brings the listener into that warm and enveloping environment Dempsey’s music (both solo and with Something For Kate) constructs. Strange Loop may have taken a little while to get here but from the onset, Dempsey isn’t eager to rush through any piece of music and doesn’t want us to either.

Dempsey has long been regarded as one of the country’s best songwriters and on this new album, he has continued to showcase a talent for weaving intricate and earnest lyricism through musical arrangements that long-time fans are likely to immediately warm to, while newcomers are bound to have their heads turned.

Trying to compare Strange Loop to Everything Is True is slightly difficult off the first listen to this new material. The hallmarks of a ‘Paul Dempsey’ album are there; that evocative vocal range, the strum-and-sing style and the oft-juxtaposed effects of a slow build piano section with a railing electric guitar. Still, Dempsey has managed to craft a new album of music that might hark back to earlier songs, but they exist only in memory, a different chapter of his artistry. Just like with every Something For Kate album, Strange Loop is a distinctively different album to take in.

In “Strange Loop” and “Morningless” particularly, are the instant-hitting singles – pop-rock jams that sit cleverly within the track list. “If you weren’t such a sucker for being there when I need you,” Dempsey sings on “Strange Loop”, before a guitar solo comes in, instantly throwing my mind to every time I’ve seen Dempsey perform live; there’s a zone he seems to lose himself in whenever he’s playing guitar this way that is just so engaging to watch. “Strange Loop” definitely will sit up there as a live favourite in shows to come.

While Dempsey does get playful with instrumentation throughout the record (“Hey History (Don’t Go Changin’)”, “Volunteers”), I found myself being drawn to tracks like “Idiot Oracle”, “Lifetime Supply” and “Blindspot” out of all 11 songs. I find that Dempsey is at his best when he’s eliciting that hyper-emotional response from the listener and fans will know what I mean. He’s an artist who can leave you speechless, weakly smiling at the fact someone’s been able to channel that amount of feeling in a three or so minute song. The above three songs, particularly “Blindspot”, hit me hard and stand out to me as some of Dempsey’s best writing yet.

“Every time I catch your eye, it’s like staring into the sun ‘til I can see right out the other side,” he sings, that earnest delivery punching through. “You know I always had a blind spot for you and I guess I still do. I guess I still do.”

 The great thing about this album is that there’s going to be at least one or two songs that will have listeners tugging back and forth over which one is their favourite. As a whole, Strange Loop acts as a great introductory album as much as Everything Is True did for any newcomers to Dempsey’s solo career. Even now, he’s shown us that he’s set on doing his own thing and making no two records the same. It makes us forget that the wait for new material dragged out as long as it had – the final result was definitely worth it. 

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10.AU-APPROVED

Strange Loop is out Friday, May 13th via EMI Music Australia.