Richard Dawson – 2020
Returning from the early-medieval north to the 21st century, Richard Dawson has crafted another masterpiece
In the press notes for his new record, Richard Dawson’s label are keen to reference a new-found fascination with pop as key to its sonic make-up, nodding to a more accessible record. But such things are relative. 2020 is certainly less abrasive than his previous work; gone are the disorienting, compact spaces of his previous records, in are synthetic guitar tones, busy basslines and synth sounds right out of an 80s sports montage. That said, the songs still tend to push past the five minute mark and the shifts of rhythms tend towards the jerky.
But Dawson shows his gift for composition with incredible minimalist skill. Every sonic element added into the mix beyond a traditional band set-up feels perfectly weighted to allow every song to breathe and bristle with life. The colossal strings that pulse beneath the chorus of Jogging wrench the scale up a notch without overpowering the song, while the delicate organ that mirrors the guitar solo on Heart Emoji is utterly wounding.
Still present in the record is Dawson’s truly remarkable capability with lyrics. He continues with his use of individual stories to explore wider societal problems but moves into a more conversational tone, the songs often feeling like confessions or tirades of the various protagonists. His capacity to let the wider issues run through these narratives, without either needing to draw attention to them or letting them capsize the delicate emotional studies he is creating is a truly remarkable feat that he manages on every single song.
As such, the issues confronted – exploitation of workers, homelessness, the erosion and underfunding of the civil service – are articulated as lived experiences in a way rarely found in music. This means that when compassion emerges amongst the maddening landscape of the record it's particularly effective. Be it the conclusion of the spectacularly well-observed kids football match of Two Halves or the entirety of the utterly heartbreaking Fresher’s Ball (an account of a parent dropping their child off for university), Dawson manages to articulate every ounce of feeling without feeling sentimental or dishonest.
Capping off a decade where he has announced and solidified himself as possibly the country’s finest songwriter, Richard Dawson has produced another record of incredible melodic talent, compositional nouse and gloriously empathic writing.
Listen to: Civil Servant, Fulfilment Centre, Fresher’s Ball