It took four years for Manchester quintet The Slow Show to put together last year’s debut album, White Water. Thankfully, they’ve been a little quicker with Dream Darling, their follow-up. Frontman Rob Goodwin says they’ve drawn even more on their classical influences this time around, including once again featuring a choir, recorded in Berlin rather than Dresden.
However, while things may be a little more intense in places, the essentials remain much the same in terms of minimalist but epic numbers steeped in atmospheric sonic landscapes against which Goodwin’s croaky baritone wafts like some lost ghost.
As with their debut, the album opens with stabbing piano notes on the five-minute Strangers Now as Goodwin intones ‘Who’s calling? Who’s calling? Who’s breaking your heart tonight?’ A choir crooning wordlessly in the background as the song swells and the ebbs away into silence. Its theme of lost romance and the pain it entails reflects ‘the typical life-changing experiences that men in their late thirties and forties experience’ around which the album is built. As such, opening with rippling guitar, the second track is aptly titled Hurts, a song about a man seeking to rescue the woman selling her body and dignity to the boys in the bar. Goodwin’s semi-spoken tones and delivery again evoke the wearied melancholy of The National’s Matt Berninger while, towards the end, fellow Mancunian Kesha Ellis puts in a brief appearance as the voice of the woman crooning “would you want to”, a cameo she repeats later on the sparse and brooding waltz of the Cohenesque Last Man Standing’s lament of a bridegroom jilted at the altar.
One of the relatively more uptempo numbers, Ordinary Lives, a partings number that echoes the album’s concern with change, is also one of the few to significantly feature drums as well as a flowing string arrangement. By contrast the hushed and wearied Lullaby echoes its title with a slow breathing feel underpinned by plucked strings, the lyrics offering the album’s only political note in the lines “If this is England that I see, then all your values are foreign to me. And your blue, blue, blue dress on the table reminds me dear. There’s no hope in leaving here. Tonight we’re blind. Tonight we’re falling behind.”
With Goodwin’s voice given a slight echo effect, Dry My Bones is another slow waltzing rumble, here awash in broken promises, loneliness and a struggle against alcoholism, giving way to the presumably narratively linked This Time with its nervy piano, strings and simple bass drum beat gradually building to the tempered optimism of its “you’re better on your own….don’t you forget about me” refrain.
Romance is in the air with the melancholically lovely city streets snapshot Brawling Tonight (which, with its heartbeat pulsing rhythm, puts me in mind of the gentler side of Suicide), the album drawing to a close with, first, Breaks Today, a gradually swelling early hours piano, keys and brass ballad about the love, loss and finality, and then the wordless Brick, a violin-led, euphoric choral farewell remembrance of “a friend and father” that, conjuring the elegiac sequences in the films of Terence Davies, has the calm of a new dawn after the storms have passed. Sleep in its arms and what dreams may come.
Dream Darling is out now via Haldern Pop Recordings
Photo Credit: Tatjana Rüegsegger