Dark Nights Make for Brighter Days, the debut album from the Scottish singer-songwriter Samantha Whates is, as the title suggests, a record of contrasts and contradictions. Recorded live at Castlesounds in Pencaitland – a small village just east of Edinburgh – almost two years ago, ‘Dark Nights…’ is an intriguing collection of self-penned songs, feeling at once tied to its Scottish roots lyrically (‘So the car broke down/fill the bottles from the burn’) and in thrall to more exotic influences musically.
Whates herself cites artists like Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and others from the Norwegian label Rune Grammofon as having the most impact on her sound. If you’re looking for it, this certainly rings true – the unobtrusive production values help to provide an airy, spacious backdrop for Whates’ keening, plaintive voice to cut through. But it is artists from closer to home that immediately spring to mind on the first listen – the eeriness of Emily Portman in ‘Village Kids’ and the hushed intimacy of Vashti Bunyan in ‘Black and Blue’ combine to create an unsettling but absorbing atmosphere.
At times the record is confessional and conversational and at others detached and cool, a conflict that underlines this disquieting quality. In ‘Dead to the World’, Whates intones, ‘I nearly told you but I changed my mind/just in time’, a lyric that for me could sum up the album. The insistent open-tuned guitar on this track merges seamlessly with the double bass (played by Douglas Whates, Samantha’s brother) creating a sound reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Hejira’, a song whose line ‘There’s comfort in melancholy / When there’s no need to explain’ seems fitting when listening to Dark Nights…
The record sounds like it has benefited from its gestation period – real care in production has been taken to ensure the instrumentation and arrangements support Whates’ songs rather than obscure them, making this an album that gradually reveals more with every listen, and rewards curious ears.
Black & Blue
Dark Nights Make for Brighter Days can be purchased here.