Unpopular advent 2021 – day 2

Dot Allison – ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’ from Heart-Shaped Scars
Blackwater – ‘Siem Reap’ from Navigation

If there is any kind of recurring theme in this 2021 advent series it may be something to do with doubling up. Two for the price of one. Two at a time, baby. All that malarky. Is this because 2021 gave us so many great records that we need an excuse to fit more into the 24 days than might be possible if we stuck to one per day? Perhaps. Perhaps too there is something of tastes changing and horizons expanding, which in turn means more ground to cover. Something like that. Not that Dot Allison is anything new of course, nor that her ‘Heart Shaped Scars’ set is significantly different to any of her previous records (solo and with One Dove), all of which have brought great delight. That said, there is something a little more otherworldly and ethereal in ‘Heart Shaped Scars’ than in previous records, none of which were exactly overtly challenged by gravity’s pull.

But let me rapidly back-pedal on that one because I have this fear that describing something as ‘ethereal’ might send all the wrong signals and may conjure something flimsy and whimsical, like a an erased Slowdive record. Actually, an erased Slowdive record is probably the best Slowdive record, but you get the (barely visible) picture. Easy targets and all that. ‘Heart-Shaped Scars’ is certainly not flimsy and whimsical, although it IS sometimes so beautifully sparse it threatens to fade into non-existence, hovering on the threshold to infinity, so temptingly alluring in its minimalism.

Now if there has always been something of a hint of, say, (and to pick the obvious reference points) Vashti Bunyan and Anne Briggs in Allison’s voice then it is certainly given stronger resonance here, as the songs create spectral bridges between earth and the heavenly constellations (and no surprise to see a track called ‘Constellations’ that is heavenly indeed). Allison deftly flicks her breathy tendrils back and forth, drawing strength and inspiration both from nature and the space that exists beyond and between ourselves and the worlds we physically perceive. ‘Heart-Shaped Scars’ is a record that echoes with loss and its eternal echoes, both personal and universal, and as such resonates remarkably strongly in these times. It is not a record, however, enslaved to the Now, and if there are suggestions that contemporary concerns might be at issue here, it is only that: a suggestion. ‘Heart-Shaped Scars’ treads the line between worlds with a finesse that is an endless pleasure to behold, never more so than on the lovely ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’. A duet with Zoë Bestel, whose 2018 ‘Transcience’ LP for Last Night From Glasgow is certainly worth tracking down, it inhabits a landscape not unlike that of This Is The Kit. A delicate rumination, nestling in the buttercup fields by Crawick Water, it breathes on our lips and promises we shall never have the Earth.

If Dot Allison was not new to me in 2021 then the sounds of Blackwater certainly were, with their ‘Navigation’ set seeping indelibly into my consciousness after some surreptitious nods from valued sources (step forward Brogues and the Monorail crew). Now I do not pretend to know (or indeed to care) anything about any ‘scenes’ to which Blackwater may or may not align themselves/be aligned to by others but it strikes me that ‘Navigation’ is a record that clicks its synaptic connections to the worlds of dub and transient electronic improv (is that A Thing? I feel sure it must be). Perhaps it rubs shoulders with the almost non-existence of GAS, or Basic Channel slipping through a portal into the Ghost Box. It may even be ambient-Prog, if such a thing were to exist (and I’m sure it does). Tangentially, which is always the best way, ‘Navigation’ too reminds me of the first time I heard Bark Psychosis. Something simultaneously recognisable yet obfuscated, as though someone were drawing the veil over consciousness and teasing me into hallucinatory subterranean delirium.

The delirium in Blackwater is mostly instrumental, with the space between as essential as the daubs and washes of sound. The music breathes a meditative conjuration of the hour before sunrise, where we slip backwards and forwards between night and day, the edge of darkness and the palest of lights. The landscape is that of liminal waterways and could be accompaniment to the photographs of Thomas Joshua Copper or Paul Kenny, occupying a similar space between abstract and figurative. So mostly instrumental, but not exclusively so, for voice defines an element in ‘Navigation’ that helps give root and solidifies form. One voice, as on the seven minute void of ‘L Line’ is vaporous, barely there; an echo of Roy Montgomery intoning incantations in some urban pagan ritual in the tomb of forgotten subterranean waterways. Glistening moisture drapes the walls and drips into stagnant pools. The distant rumble of tube train as a sub-bass caress.

In another of the voices there is something of Laila Sakini (whose ‘Princess Diana Of Wales’ LP is another one of those end-of-year-just-too-late-for-inclusion artefacts) and Carla Dal Forno’s mesmeric and whispery delivery, particularly on the tremendous ‘Siem Riep’. With a burbling brook pattering in the background throughout the track, its minimalist gentility is like a sedative administered by Young Marble Giants to a fledgling snow owl huddled in a silk cocoon beneath a hunter’s moon. Hypnotic, addictive and hauntingly beautiful.

2 thoughts on “Unpopular advent 2021 – day 2

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