Sir Elton was on the telly the other night. That fact doesn’t bear any real significance to this review — even if it did, I remain fairly uneducated when it comes to the Rocket Man's current renaissance. But news of his sequined resurgence did prompt some pondering — I mean, whatever did happen to the humble pianist-songwriter?
Wainwright's still going strong of course, but his last release – 2012’s Out of the Game – was too much of a big-band extravaganza for consideration in this category. Yorke, Newsom and Vernon occasionally tinkle at the old ivories, but none is necessarily a first-order pianist. Holter? Blake? Well, maybe, but already it feels as if we’re clutching at straws. You really have to travel to the fringes to arrive at answers like Fiona Apple and Doveman. So here we are, left with a rather sorry state of affairs. One colloquially known as Tom Odell.
But perhaps we’ll find salvation in Dougals Dare, the newest member of the Erased Tapes family. The 23-year-old Londoner makes his maiden voyage with the release of Seven Hours, a four-track EP that interweaves his Wainrightian vocals with gentle piano work – nothing too imposing, just softly pulsing chordal movement. There’s a kind of drifting listlessness about it all—listen too intently and it’ll soon leave you in a monochrome trance.
And that deflated feeling chimes perfectly with the subject matter of these songs. Dare’s ruminations on love (and, more pertinently, loss) tend to allude rather than scrutinise – indeed, much of the lyrical content started life as poetry or short prose. But maybe that’s for the best. These downtrodden soliloquies are fairly gloomy as they are – nobody really needs the specifics. “Oh I just want to feel / A scar no one else can steal”, he sings on ‘Scars’, continuing in that anguished state on ‘Flames’: “all that I’ve known / all that I’ve hoped / up in flames,” he despairs.
This much should appeal to the woe is me masochist in all of us. But Seven Hours’ most surprising trump card – especially given what one could find of Dare's music on the internet before excerpts from this EP began to appear – is that this is not a straightforward recording of a lonely soul at his piano. The EP is very much augmented by the work Dare's friend and collaborator Fabian Prynn, who sublimely burdens the weight of production responsibilities here. Take the subtle, murky bass and off-kilter percussion of ‘Seven Hours’, or the atmospheric cloud that blooms towards the end of ‘Flames’ – all these textural disturbances lends Dare’s songwriting a sense of theatricality.
Dare is no pop mastermind; I highly doubt he has either the desire or the inclination to write the next ‘Bennie & The Jets’. His songwriting is much too potent for all that. But these haunted, cloudy meditations certainly mark him out as a bright new talent, and Seven Hours is a formidable opening gambit.
8Sam Cleeve's Score