Release Date: May 13, 2014
Record label: Erased Tapes Records
Bridport export Douglas Dare demonstrated his knack for affective gravitas in September of last year with his Seven Hours EP, flinging tear-jerk emotion backed by James Blake reverence and a Thom Yorke simplicity. During our interview ahead of that release, Dare described it as a “step towards the album… kind of a subtle introduction.” Stellar effort “Lungful”, a solemn South London dirge (I think we’re beyond classifying Blake, Woon et al. as post-dubstep now), is the only remnant of that debut EP that exists on Dare’s premiere full-length, acting as a tether between the gradual decline of Seven Hours and the sheer drop that is the Whelm LP.
With the spatial grandeur of his native Atlantic coast and the cinematic minimalism of a classic ECM recording, youthful London piano bard Douglas Dare delivers his striking debut LP, Whelm. Growing up in the coastal Dorset town of Bridport, Dare learned to play music from his piano teacher mother while absorbing the pastoral richness of the geography from his farmer father. Fed on classical music, but drawn to artists like Radiohead, Rufus Wainwright, and PJ Harvey, he has taken an interesting path with his music, blending a spare avant-garde aesthetic with dark but often melodic songwriting.
Erased Tapes have built their reputation and identity around an impressive collection of artists creating modern classical music of considerable beauty but latest signing Douglas Dare brings something relatively under-represented on the label to date, namely vocals and songs. His background may be in instrumental music but on debut release Whelm he has delivered a set of songs full of snowy, svelte elegance and considered clarity. Ahead of the album being released Dare spoke of how it was influenced by the sea (possibly originating back to his upbringing in the coastal town of Bridport) and he manages to incorporate a sense of landscape and geography into his music, not through the exclusively instrumental methods that other artists resort to, but primarily (and unusually) through his distinctive voice.
Although it's being released under the name of Douglas Dare, Whelm is very much a collaboration between singer-songwriter Dare and producer-percussionist Fabian Prynn. Dare provided the music and lyrics, while Prynn recorded, engineered, mixed and produced the album, and both played most of the instruments. Their combined efforts have resulted in one of the finest debuts to tap the neo-classical vein in recent years.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There can be something profoundly moving about one person and a piano, a fact that avant-garde composition label Erased Tapes are clearly well aware of. The imprint is a haven of singers and songwriters who favour a tinkle on the ivories over a pick on a guitar string, and have since brought the likes of Nils Frahm to widespread acclaim in the independent music world.
'The words that follow in this book explore; our apparent fascination for time and insatiable need for answers; the insupposable reactions we have to love and loss, empowerment and restriction; and through it all, nature’s unstoppable ruling of everything,' reads the foreword of a poem book entitled Nine Poems by Douglas Dare, which arrives inside the sleeve of the Londoner’s debut LP Whelm. Inside, as you might have guessed, are nine poems, all of which are central to the soul of Dare’s debut effort. Along with the clean cut and muted cover of the album, the poems suggest a record with minimalistic approaches and songs that orbit around bringing sentience to their lyrics.
From Chris Martin to Regina Spektor, tinkling on the ivories has become irrevocably linked with mushiness and sappiness, to the extent that plonking out a few chords, singing and calling it beautiful now seems odiously lazy. Luckily, Tom Odell has brought the farce of society's immutably mushy love of the keyboard singer-songwriter to its nadir, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief, move on, and begin to rebuild - and Erased Tapes' latest signing is perhaps the first of a new generation. The defining feature of Douglas Dare's music is this very understanding that beauty is erratic; that discord, dissonance and unease are as communicative as the traditional romance and comfortable opulence surrounding the piano, and indeed the idea of the singer-songwriter at large.