26 Sep 2014

Album Review: Dodson And Fogg "In A Strange Slumber"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

It's always a delight when word of a new Dodson And Fogg album is whispered on the world wide web; thankfully due to the prolific nature of main man Chris Wade this is not an altogether rare occurrence. This new opus comes bearing the familiar and welcome hall marks of a classic Dodson album - the intricate and otherworldly sleeve illustration by wife Linzi and the impressive list of collaborators, this time including actor Nigel Planer (perhaps best known from his Comic Strip work), frequent foil Celia Humphris of legendary acid folk band Trees, Alison O'Donnell of the equally legendary Mellow Candle, Kevin Scott of Mr Pine and sitar player Ricky Romain. "In A Strange Slumber", in Chris's own words, "centres around the concept of dreams and death, and the connections between both subjects". Ambitious yet inclusive and inviting in its instant melodic appeal this is a concept album that can be listened to on a number of different levels, each equally enjoyable and entrancing.

Opener "The Dance" is a slight departure for Dodson, featuring as it does a folk inflected mandolin reel. Yet the familiar psych touches are evident and the ease with melody that is so inherent on Dodson's releases is on full display here. "I'm Coming Back" begins with a tense fingerpicked melody of descending arpeggios, again sounding almost folk in its recalling of the work of John Renbourn or perhaps The Strawbs. Indeed there is a "From The Witchwood" feel to the track as Wade's vocals merge with that of Humphris in an acoustic reverie of harmony and haze, bursts of electric guitar and organ adding to the 'classic' feel of the music. If previous Dodson albums had 1960s inflections this is perhaps where they draw from the well of 1970's revered and classic rock to add to their own unique and recognisable stylings. A trumpet refrain leads the song out on a burst of wild freeform guitar; Dodson are masters at the building and layering of a song into something almost transcendent and deeply thrilling. By contrast "When You Were Young" is a moody, brooding psych rock anthem in the mould of Ray Davies. Harmonising with himself, Wade turns this track into a blistering yet melancholy reflection on lost youth. "Along The Way" is a complex, Spanish guitar inflected tango, frequent time signature changes leading into certainly the best bit of fuzz guitar you will hear this year. Drinking from the bountiful cup of Love's "Forever Changes" but with extra wistfulness and a menacing sense of tension this is classic Dodson. In fact, it is just classic full stop. The title track is a truly beautiful and beatific psychedelic whirl through bells, xylophone, violin and keyboard; an Alice In Wonderland waltz through a Victorian garden of melody. "Entrepreneur In The Garden" introduces Nigel Planer as narrator in a humorous and bizarre tale of the unwanted protagonist of the title. There's a touch of "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End" here or the perhaps the Pythons, a surreal and brilliantly English whimsy at its heart. It says much for Dodson's sheer creativity and willingness to experiment and push their sound into new pastures.

Make no mistake, Dodson are an ideas band who are not straight jacketed into any one particular genre or style. Yet their music is consistent, you can spot a Dodson song due to the song writing finesse and Wade's melodic vocals. It is this balance between identity and melody yet with an urge to experiment and include all kinds of influences and creative urges that make Dodson so unique and essential. "By Your Side" is a hazy and narcotic mantra, a tabla driven late summer love song whilst "A Day In Your Life' has echoes of psych master Paul Roland in its shimmering yet quirky acoustic finesse. Perhaps the most overtly psych track on the album, there is a nostalgic English air in its trumpet refrain and sense of melancholy. However this nostalgia could just as easily be for the England of the sixties as the Victorian England of Lewis Carroll and it is absolutely spellbinding. 'The Wind" takes a detour into organ based, slightly sinister 60s psych, the ghost of Syd Barrett in its minor and flat key unworldliness and unsettling crescendos. "Never Be Alone" by turn is a full on fuzz rock masterpiece, eerie organ and urgent sitar punctuating the strident guitar riffage, not unlike if Chrome had emerged with their psyche space punk in the early seventies rather than later on in that decade. Reverbed guitar slows the track into a more meditative pace, duelling with the sitar until the tension fades into silence. It is both unpredictable and properly exciting; it is not often music is this attention grabbing and thrilling. "When I See Her" is recognisably Dodson; instantly memorable and yearning, a perfect pop song with odd little corners and angles. "Clunes The Gravedigger" is another darkly eccentric and funny tale of the unusual featuring Nigel Planer. These punctuations to the musical side of the album fit seamlessly and only add to the sense of ingenuity and creativity on show here. Indeed they contribute to the timeless and anglophile atmosphere; the spectres of Vivian Stanshall and Bob Calvert are smiling upon this music. "Don't You Pass Me By" is a Bolan-esque mid paced wonder; electric guitar unfurling around wisps of violin and Wade's evocative vocals. As a guitar player Wade needs special mention; he flits between styles, masterly control and melody as well as momentous freeform wig outs with seeming ease. And the guitar always feels essential to the song; no indulgent bar band or 'rawk' solos here. "A Sweet And Strange Surprise" is utterly beautiful, Kevin Scott's piano glistening across guitar trills, hushed cymbals and acid folk legend Alison O’Donnell’s choir like vocals in a song that is both wistful and hopeful. As an album closer it is breathtaking and energising; it leaves us hungry for more. If this was on vinyl (and it should be) I’d be flipping the record back to start at side one again.

It is becoming clear that Dodson may well be the most important and vital psych band operating at the moment. Close your eyes, begin to drift into dream and enter the strange slumber of Dodson And Fogg. It may well be a trippy and unusual ride but one you will want to come back to again and again.

Available from Dodson And Fogg's bandcamp site as a download or their website as a CD, with the option of a package including a signed print of the inner cover art.

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