It’s over eleven minutes before the tender, cracked falsetto of Richard Dawson kicks in, in this, the follow-up to 2020. But then, this is contemplative music which really asks more of the listener – to lean in, and really engage. The Hermit is the opening track, over forty minutes long, and almost the antithesis of modern life, where many attention spans only last as long as a TikTok video. From anyone else, this could be perceived as artistic hubris, but Dawson is self-aware enough to raise both an eyebrow and a chuckle, even when wading in deep to our collective fears, paranoia and aspirations. He’s more twitcher than curtain twitcher.
Dense with rural imagery (pureed bilberries, kittiwakes, forests, seas and rainbows) he somehow swerves any hippy cliches by deploying the most subtle musical ebbs and flows: airy, brushed drums, waves of Rhodri Davies’ harp, drones, soft guitar, Angharad Davies’ violin, and an all-encompassing, warm choral coda. Occasionally though, instruments fade out altogether, with Dawson’s a cappella vocal exposed, leaving words to resonate like vapour trails in the air.
There’s more harp on the beautiful Museum, where Dawson meditates on archives left to a dying world, and tracks like The Fool and The Tip Of An Arrow cut loose, moving into post-rock directions with electronics burbling away underneath.
Thematically, he is still somewhere between The Unthanks and Gazelle Twin: not as dolorous as the former; nor as vicious as the latter, yet occupying that strange hinterland between history and future days. It’s life, death, and the minutiae in between.
The Ruby Cord is a paradox, as with so much of Dawson’s best work – hopeful that society can return to something as simple as embracing community spirit, yet wary that progress, however we lean into it, isn’t leading us to dystopian disaster. It’s a world of dreams and quotidian concerns alike: of bow and arrow; and inscrutable robot. There are great monsters and armies at one level; climate change protesters and supermarket shoppers at the other.
Dawson seems to be the closest artist we’ve got to a modern day William Blake, lucid and humane. Ultimately, he seems to suggest that nature always finds a way to slip through the cracks. He feels like a light at the end of the street, always shining and a safe place to return to.