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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. Douglas Dare is one of the latest to be graced by Erased Tapes' Midas touch on debut LP Whelm. On it, the London-based singer-songwriter takes cues from his label-mates, but with songs so personal that they cut away comparisons and craft something entirely the writer's own.
Although the primary and most powerful means of instrumentation is the piano, Dare's decision to add some electronic elements to the mix was a wise one. During his time in the studio, Douglas found a Mini Moog that gives a welcome bassier feel to some of the tracks. This isn't James Blake levels of bass, but it gives the songs a sense of body and presence that a purely piano-based track would be missing.
It doesn't take long to realise, however, that Douglas Dare is first and foremost a poet. Listening to Whelm is like leafing through the pages of his notebook, with each side not quite a diary entry and not quite a story. Each song finds a beautiful middle ground between the two, with an of-the-moment sincerity that makes every track a successful stand-alone. This is not so much an album in the sense that it isn't a narrative or a journey, but a collection of confessionals from different emotional situations and perspectives. 'Lungful' sees Dare take on the role of a moral supporter to a loved one, while 'Swim' pulls at the heartstrings as it seems that he himself is the one needing the emotional support.
Some of the standout moments come when Dare puts himself in to a situation alien to him. 'London's Rose', for example, sees the singer wear the shoes of a Londoner taking refuge in a tube station during the Blitz. Simple yet poignant lyrics express the fear and claustrophobia that the participants must have felt, "entire world under the street, soiled air you cannot breath." The sentiment builds until the narrator can't handle it anymore, proclaiming repeatedly "Take us back up to the top!" layered over emphatic piano chords. This use of plain language is key to the sensitive power behind every song on Whelm. It lulls, not stuns, the listener into submission, and all the while those soft piano keys provide an absorbent backdrop to soak up all the emotion. It feels raw, genuine, but most of all, human.
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