The world is unfair. At this time of the year, I voraciously consume end-of-year lists. Quite why is beyond me, because they invariably disappoint. Reading many album of the year lists in recent weeks, I am dumbfounded by the continued reappearance of certain albums. The artists concerned must have great PR. Then, on the other hand, we come to albums like this – Milkteeth by Douglas Dare. I’m not seeing it appear on those lists and I cannot understand why.
There are few albums in 2020 that are as personal and beautifully written, performed and produced than this. My full thoughts can be read in my review for Louder Than War, which I wrote way back in more sane times (early March, to be precise).
Milkteeth is Dare’s third album and is his most accomplished to date. It is minimalism personified, music stripped bare and oozing raw emotion. I’m not sure why, but it evokes an England of Thomas Hardy. But like Hardy’s finest works, it is not all Dorset’s rolling meadows and skylarks. Lyrically, Milkteeth has as much tragedy as Tess of the D’Urbevilles and it is as dark as Cerberus.
There is not a bad tune on the album. As a collective, they flow seamlessly and paint a vivid picture of what’s going on in Dare’s mind. The album may open with Dare proclaiming that “I am free”, but as it develops it is evident that he is bound by a difficult past. This is a set of songs about childhood insecurity, hiding and running away. They are highly personal, yet Dare delivers them in a slightly detached way, almost like a bystander with a passing interest in events.
It’s a difficult album to pick out highlights simply due to the strength of every single track. If I had to point people in the direction of a few, I’d start with the paean to loneliness, Silly Games, which is probably the most straight-ahead radio-friendly song on the album. Equally worthy is the album’s aching finale, Run, with it’s gorgeous piano line and opening line of “if you are reading this, I’ve run away”.
The absolute stand-out, however, is the fragile, gossamer-like Heavenly Bodies. It is a heartbreaking threnody, with Dare seeking affirmation from the ones who matter most. “Are my parents proud of me” he asks, before requesting “Mother, Father, can I lie between your bodies tonight”. It’s a beautiful piece of songwriting and I urge you to check out the link below. This version of Heavenly Bodies, featuring the London Contemporary Orchestra, was released just last week. It is a jaw-dropping version of the album track with Dare’s voice being lifted to the heavens by sumptuous strings. The production is so moving.
Douglas Dare deserves a much wider audience and much more exposure. And Milkteeth is unquestionably one of the albums of the year. The world is unfair.