It’s fitting that Douglas Dare has seemingly been discovered and projected onto the world by Erased Tapes; a label that continues to push music that is an eclectic mix of classical and ambient. It’s also a place where honesty and integrity is held in higher regard than pure record sales, as fittingly shown by Dare’s emotional second album, Aforger. Here we find the solo artist flitting somewhere between perhaps the soulfulness of James Blake and the melancholy orchestration of Max Richter in an honest contemplation about a breakup, coming out to his father and also the role technology now has in our lives.
Opening track, ‘Doublethink’, sums up Dare at his finest, opening with a fog horned call to arms. The track flits between off kilter drumming (including an impressive inclusion of cowbell!), and bass heavy verses to a quiet reverb filled guitar picked chorus’, offering an intelligent reverse on the standard quiet verse loud chorus formula.
On ‘Oh Father’, Dare is almost pleading his father to accept his sexual orientation. It’s a level of emotional openness that could be uncomfortable for some acts, but the mix of Dare’s emotional delivery and the grandiosity of the accompanying ambient soundscape makes it a delightful listen. Another standout track, ‘Binary’, has Dare trying to move on from a breakup, despite memories being conveyed via the internet; “Binary ghost leave me alone / I know you’re just ones and zeros”. Musically it feels like it owes a beautiful debt to the eighties and the Portishead album, Third, with its pitch shifting melodies that jaunt between lightness and sadness. The bridge section alone is worth a listen, feeling like it’s going to collapse in on your ears before the arrival of some beautifully melodic piano at the track’s conclusion.
Then we have ‘Stranger’, a stunningly organic brass led track that breaks up the ambient electronica that had been filling the listeners ears up to this point. The track is perhaps Dare’s strongest vocal performance on the record and it’s clearly evident that every word is felt as it’s being sang.
While Dare has confessed that Aforger was born from frequent ideas of identity (or loss of), this record doesn’t stutter due to a lack of identity, instead it revels in the conflict between the acoustic and electronic elements within. Every track feels like it has a purpose, one that becomes more evident with every listen. The more organic tracks like ‘Doublethink’ and ‘Stranger’ sit comfortably next to the almost Bonobo tinged tracks of ‘Greenhouse’ and ‘New York’. However, instead of creating a fragmented listen that recalls a host of influences (from the more ambient segments of Radiohead to Four Tet), Dare has in fact created a niché all of his own. In a modern age where everything feels tired and recycled, that to me is a revelation.
It’s not so much an album but a cinematic soundtrack not only to Dare’s own life but also to those who chose to listen; the music ebbs and flows effortlessly in and out of our own emotional conflicts with graceful ease. Beautiful and harrowingly honest, Aforger is easily up there with my favourite releases of the year, so far.
Aforger is out now via Erased Tapes.