Album Review: Alison Wonderland – Loner (2022)

So far, 2022 has been a fantastic year for music, seeing new albums from some of our favorite artists – including Sunflower Bean, Warpaint, Ybeyi, Let’s Eat Grandma and Anomalie. However, the album that definitely left the biggest impression on this author this month was Alison Wonderland’s third LP, Loner. If you thought Flume’s sound has been getting better and better recently, wait till you see what Wonderland has been up to: yet another epic statement of intent and arguably her best album yet, Loner is carefully designed to impress from the very first second and is infinitely replay-able.

Out of all the singles, it was Forever and Bad Things that ended up giving just an inkling of what the rest of the unreleased tracks were going to sound like, while New Day provided the idea for the amazing cover visuals (Sholler with her head in the clouds). On the album, Alexandra Sholler sings about being left alone and not wanting her life to pass her by: it seems to share some DNA with her previous effort, Awake – but Loner is more about what comes after the healing process. This album takes the time to celebrate the beautiful aspects of living, messy at they might be. At times (on the title track most of all), it’s as if Sholler has patented her own genre of EDM, “ecstatic sadness,” but the album surprisingly taps into multiple genres, including house, jungle, dubstep, and, of course, melodic trap.

What Loner manages to achieve on par with Awake is to deliver listeners wickedly polished production and melodies. What it does differently, is leave space for ample drops which will delight fans who craved more of what the mind-blowing live version of Peace had to offer. Playing to the album format’s strength, previously released songs like Bad Things, with its many contrasts, are placed in their proper context and given new life (there is even a coda of sorts for New Day which doubles as an interlude called I’m Doing Great Now).

Loner finds Sholler in a better place, with fewer questions than Awake, but a lot more experience. That experience is turned into blissful transitions and arrangements, and if tracks like Fear of Dying are about the living with the fear of losing a beloved friend, there are a couple of songs on the album which would qualify as actual love songs.

If Sholler’s signature sound mainly relies on arpeggiated synths which go together with her drops, on her latest album she introduces more classic, massively “sweaty” supersaw drops, while perfecting the previous approach (some songs, like Fear of Dying, even features both styles). These new drops feel like joyously running on an inverted treadmill, something straight out of a “legendary drops” compilation. The album is a combination of old and new, charting a bold direction for Sholler to distill in her upcoming live sets.

The most energetic moments on the album are cathartic and burrow deep into one’s brain, with Sholler often following a simple recipe of providing an evolved (think 200% crazier) version of the drop at the end of a track, by adding one or more extra layers of melody or rhythm. We already thought Forever was the path the album should take, but Safe Life could very well be our favorite electronic anthem of the year, with its addictive beast of a drop, powerful beat, lush melodies, and insane accumulation of energy.

The title track, Loner, is cut from the same cloth, taking this bold new sound further, F**k U Love U is more of a classic Wonderland track, and New Day feels like the best of both worlds.

Something Real is the most nostalgic track on the album, an earworm of a house song with a true “walking with elephants” mood. Eyes Closed is the massive surprise, recalling the golden days of jungle and drum&bass coupled with the Berlin techno feeling. With almost no melody and just a minimal vocal sample, it definitely makes us wish that sometime along the way, Sholler will pull a swerve and release a dnb album.

Thirst is another standout track, a trap song which is like a fond reminder of Wonderland’s best remixes and her I Want U and Cold days, but even this one ends with a delightful, scaling drop which is more particular to Loner than her first album, Run.

Loner ends with a “lessons learned” track, just like Awake did, in which Sholler acknowledges both her transformation after an almost decade-long journey, as well as her vulnerability and limitations. The artist describes the track as “the most jarring” one she ever made, an open letter to herself and the losses she experienced. “I’ll miss you but I never met you” is a powerful declaration, and together with lyrics such as, “If I’m such a creator then why can’t I make you,” it’s clear that the track is about something more personal than a failed relationship and not quite just about welcoming loneliness as a permanent mindset.

Overall, with Loner, Alison Wonderland once again proves why she’s not just an EDM superstar, a great producer or a great performer. Running a gamut of feelings, rhythms and colors, “Loner” is more massive in scale than Awake, yet can feel just as intimate. Not a complete reinvention, but definitely a rebirth and joyous celebration of past, present, and future acceptance – Loner is one of 2022’s finest electronic albums, and it’s never felt as amazing to be a Wonderland fan than right now.

You can watch the Loner live stream below, one of the best sets she ever did, described by some fans as even better than her legendary LA Lab performance:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

(one of our easiest 5 out 5 stars ever)

*

Featured image is “Creative Loneliness” from the article “An Artist’s Torment: How To Harness & Accept Creative Loneliness”

Reading Material: What makes an EDM drop massive (from a producer’s standpoint, but you will gain a lot of insight)

Bonus reading material: Do Artists Have To Be Lonely? – An Open Discussion

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