Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Douglas Dare – Whelm

It took a while for London-based singer-songwriter, Douglas Dare, to find the perfect piano. His conditions…

 

It took a while for London-based singer-songwriter, Douglas Dare, to find the perfect piano. His conditions were simple enough: to find a studio with an instrument that had charm and strength, often that which is found on a well-worn and classically standing piano. Why, you might ask, was it so important for him to spend time on this seemingly innocuous part of recording an album? Apart from the fact that the piano plays a key part in his overall sound, his need for such an instrument ties deeper into his whole understanding of beauty. For him, finding it meant he could accurately communicate his outlook on how nothing in this world remains in a state of stagnation, and that beauty is just as capable of experiencing flux as with anything else. In short, he emphasizes how the history and possible flaws found in the sound resulting from playing this piano upholds a splendor in its discord, which further links to the rawness and unease of the art of a singer-songwriter.  On his debut LP, Whelm, we see Dare carving a unique name for himself in the Erased Tapes roster, and producing an album filled with meditative poetics laced in and amongst classical piano and occasional bouts of electronics. It might be his debut, but it is one of the most self-assured and emotionally resounding albums to have been released this year. 

Listening to this album for the first time provides nothing short of a wondrous experience: it’s instantly clear that he is an incredibly talented musician, whose ability to maintain the dignity of such an age-old craft and tradition, while still rejuvenate it with synthetic beats and electronics is remarkable. In fact, it is this balance that becomes one of the more noticeable features of the album, as each listen brings around a stronger appreciation for his ability to play one off the other – each working together to create a wondrously smooth and delicate pensive sound off which his pure voice muses over. His lyrics are almost poetic in their delivery, and their content has been built-up over many emotional states and from many angles. Again, despite this only being his debut album, there is an undeniable maturity in his music that reaches right into the way he has written his songs. 

In the opening track, ‘Clockwork’, the lyrics “Measure time but it will move / Hold it close but it won’t prove / Anything” are sung amongst beautiful piano melodies cut by the percussive imitations of clocks working. The thought-provoking notion of our futility in measuring time resonates throughout his album: the songs rarely seem to be heard to have an end or beginning, but rather all seem to blur into each other. Ultimately, the album becomes a single lived experience and entity, rather than an entity made up of various individual experiences. For a listener, it becomes a skewed challenge to reject the instant-gratification that has come with the digital era, and rather to sit down to listen to an album in its entirety. 

Frequent comparisons can be made to the likes of James Blake (‘Nile’) and Thom Yorke, with songs such as ‘Swim’. The track has a pulsating synthetic layer reminiscent of Yorke’s complex intermingling of piano chords and rhythms in his solo debut, The Eraser. ‘Unrest and ‘Repeat’ are frenetic in their percussion and arpeggiated chords, capturing a sense of anxiety in Dare himself.  ‘Whitewash’ and ‘Caroline’ start as two of the more serene tracks on the album, but gradually swing into a compound of dense and broody piano chords and percussion. The album’s closing track, ‘London Rose,’ allows us to enter the claustrophobic mindset of a Londoner stuck inside a tube station during the Blitz – “entire world under the street, soiled air you cannot breathe.” He may communicate from these various different angles, but his messages are pure and direct, and are capable of resonating deeper and deeper with each listen.

Personally, listening to Whelm has brought back the oft forgotten act of listening and really absorbing both a work of art, but also the beauty of an unadulterated musical instrument. Erased Tapes have become a haven for musicians such as this (Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds) who are able to put the instrument used on the pedestal, as well as themselves. Douglas Dare is the latest in the art of creating non-cliché neo-classical music, and there’s a strong possibility he could build himself to be one of the greats. 

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