I Don’t Like You

i dont like you

Summer ’17, the 2019 project by British songwriter Christian Alexander, evoked such intense loneliness that it felt intrusive to listen to. Over lo-fi mist and gently strummed guitar, Alexander sang of pain, regret, and high school malaise in an effortlessly soulful voice. Writing, recording, and producing the music from his parents’ garage in Garstang, England, he self-released Summer ’17 under a guise of anonymity that added to its appeal. He quickly found success with “Going Thru,” which has since racked up millions of streams. Several months later, after releasing another project, Summer ’19, he caught the attention of Kevin Abstract, who tweeted that Alexander was his “favorite artist in the world.”

Cue a BROCKHAMPTON feature, a record deal with Abstract’s Video Store label, and a shift from his DIY garage setup to a professional studio. No longer bound to Garstang, nor the solitude that informed his early work, the 24-year-old artist is positioned to become an edgier Rex Orange County who can gracefully glide between hip-hop, R&B, and guitar pop. I Don’t Like You arrives under these pretenses, and it nearly collapses under the weight of its own ambition. Built from simple chords and inoffensive lyrics, it’s a collection of lackluster songs that aspires toward timelessness but winds up regurgitating a generic singer-songwriter pastiche with barely any pulse.

Working alongside BROCKHAMPTON producer and engineer Romil Hemnani, Alexander’s once grainy sound broadens into brighter colors. Opener “Waste Her Time” blends a dusty drumbeat, rich grand piano, and cavernous harmonies, yet it never lifts off the ground. It sounds good in the way that music in an advertisement can sound good. Though Alexander’s signature lo-fi haze still textures a few songs (“Head” and “Paper Bag”), the big acoustic numbers are sappy and spineless, like cast-off demos from “A-Team”-era Ed Sheeran. A tacky guitar riff leads “Small Things,” an aimless song about singing songs. “Bertie” borrows the strumming pattern from the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and the vocal cadence of an English drinking song. The layered harmonies and strings are nice touches, but the song remains hapless and one-note, ending in the same place it started.

Part of the problem with I Don’t Like You is Alexander’s voice, which hardly ever expands past his nasally middle register. When his voice does open up, his songs erupt: The bridge on “Where’s Your Head At?” throbs with desperation, a fervor almost entirely absent from the rest of the record. But then, in an instant, Alexander returns to neutral, and any emotional intrigue goes with him. On past projects, his melodies and homespun production were engaging enough to mask his vocal range, but here, under glossy studio lights, it falters with the burden of carrying a big-budget album.

The best moments are when Alexander dares to get dark. The title track revolves around a chorus that delivers one of the album’s sharpest melodies: “If you ask me what I think of us/I’d say ‘I don’t like you, never have,’” he sings, briefly flashing the alluring promise that pulsed through his early work. It’s not that Alexander needs to go emo to access his best material, but eschewing immediacy for accessibility flattens what made him a riveting talent in the first place. I Don’t Like You seeks to explore the contours of his sound and take bolder risks, but the result is an aloof and frictionless record that leaves little to look for beneath the surface.

christian alexander i dont like you