Nick Bollinger explores the torch electronica of Douglas Dare.
Douglas Dare has all the tools of a traditional tunesmith. A classically-trained pianist, he can pen a memorable melody, and deliver it in a plaintive, emotive voice. But cast those elements into a moody electronic landscape and the effect is a long way from your typical piano man.
Aforger is his second long-player and finds him pushing further into the territory he outlined on his 2014 debut, Whelm, a territory in which soul, torch balladry and electronica meet. It’s an area that might seem to have been already claimed by James Blake. But if Douglas Dare owes some debt to Blake’s electronic soul, that’s clearly not his only inspiration.
In fact it was Vulnicura, last year’s album by that pioneer-in-all-things Bjork, that Dare has named as the primary inspiration behind his latest set. That record was uniquely personal; a gut-wrenching response to betrayal and the breakup of a longstanding relationship. There’s a relationship bust-up in Aforger too, though it’s not the only personal story Dare has chosen to share here. ‘Oh Father’ is the song of a gay son coming out to his father, delivered in language couldn’t be much less adorned. It’s a brave, hopeful, painful statement, and the inherent tension is mirrored in the music’s nervous pulse and unresolved chords.
Then there’s ‘New York’, a song about the discovery of a deceit, which maintains a steady ominous build, and as the music grows so does the singer’s doubt and uncertainty, until by the final verses he is asking whether he will ever trust anyone – or himself – again?
It’s this distrust of self that inspired the title – Aforger – as Dare compares his shattered illusions to forged artworks on the walls of his mind. Yet even when it finds the singer tortured with doubt, or finding parallels for his paranoia in George Orwell’s 1984, he’s seldom without an affecting, if sombre, melody.
I’ve mentioned the audible influence of James Blake and Bjork, and you might also detect echoes of Anohni and Rufus Wainwright. Ironically then - for an album that is not always blazingly original, that is largely concerned with doubt, repeatedly asks whether one should trust anything or anyone, and in which the singer even questions his own authenticity - I listen to Douglas Dare and I believe him.
Songs featured: Greenhouse, Oh Father, New York, Doublethink, Stranger, Thinking Of Him.
Aforger is available on Erased Tapes.