Someone stole PJ Harvey’s autoharp and went on a Gipsy trip
Douglas Dare sent out a message ahead of his new album ‘Milktooth’ telling everyone that this album will be stripped back. Douglas wasn’t lying yet it still feels as powerful as his previous works.
‘Milktooth’ as an album focuses on piano, guitar, autoharp and synthesizers. Occasionally some percussion pops up but its the exception rather than the rule. ‘I Am Free’ is possibly the most produced track on the album as we dip our toe into a Dare album without tons of electronic synths buzzing everywhere. What electronics that are here are ethereal swirls and they sit behind the piano and the lighter vocal delivery. Everything here is hushed but still defined. It is a poise that stays throughout the album.
‘Red Arrows’ resembles an old nursery rhyme where Douglas starts one vocal layer a few lines behinds the next one. It reminds me of when we’d sing Londons Burning as kids and it feels rose-tinted – right down to the soft delicate piano accompaniment. ‘Heavenly Bodies’ switches pianos for guitars for a witchy folk tale. Here, Douglas Dare has a poetic restraint as subtle horns and backing hums warm up the olde tale.
The middle of the album pulls across to a lighter version of PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ album as the autoharp takes centre stage. ‘Silly Games’ is an emotional rollercoaster as the lightly strummed autoharp has all its bass guts removed. Sounding and feeling airy and empty, Dare lets his voice take the undertow instead and it works beautifully. ‘The Joy in Sarah’s Eyes’ mixes the autoharp with gipsy percussion and bleeping synths. It is the caravaning song of the album. ‘Wherever You Are’ straddles the two tracks sonically with an extended synth outro. Between all these tracks are three instrumental piano-led pieces. Each one is gingerly played and whilst I’d have preferred ‘full tracks’ so-to-speak – they do enhance the chamber music mood.
Dare returns to the more complex production side of the album with ‘The Playground’. It is possibly my favourite track of the album. There is something timeless and playful about the first half of the track which then descends into something darker and more chaotic when the beat and horns kick in. The album then closes with ‘Run’ which harks back to the darker ballads of Douglas Dare’s past. Just him and the piano, intimately telling a story to feel something to. It’s sometimes where Douglas does his best.
‘Milktooth’ is going to be a grower, not a shower. Very few of the tracks have immediate hooks that will repeat in your head over and over. This is an album to contemplate over. It is also the most private and intimate collection from Douglas Dare to date. If you invest the time into it, its big boy teeth will bite into you hard – just give it time.