Thursday, March 25, 2010

Album Review: Dakota Suite – Signal Hill

I bought Dakota Suite’s third album many years ago. I thought I'd revisit it after being on Signal Hill in Cape Town. Released in 2000, I was struck immediately by the similarity of the artwork (courtesy of Johanna Hooson) to Red House Painters’ Ocean Beach album. The music contained within is not too dissimilar, albeit a little more jazzy.

Opener The Cost of Living channels this jazz influence quite well. Chris Hooson’s barely there vocals drift over the lurching music, which contains some nice trumpets in the chorus. Close Enough to Tears, is short charming little song based on a fragile guitar line which reminds me a little of American Music Club’s Laughingstock.

The title track is dominated by some pretty miserable (in a good way) piano but contains hope with the line “you won’t let me drown”. The heart of the album is track 6 and 7, which I like to consider as 2 parts of the one piece. Riverside (track 6), begins with the remarkable feat of making the sound of a train passing sound like the loneliest sound in the world, especially when the flugelhorn comes in. The song is brief, with Hooson repeating the lyric “is it true, are you breaking up inside”. It dissolves into Raining Somewhere, an instrumental featuring flanged guitar and piano, vaguely reminiscent of Red House Painters’ Katy Song. Morning Heavy is another brooding piece, with lyrics like "go, go away, I don't need you".

The penultimate track is a classical piece, I Turned Away So That I Might Not See. It’s a good exercise in building tension through cellos and piano. The album then resolves itself with the somewhat hopeful song, When Skies Are Grey, which is about Everton.

The album is a really good introduction to Dakota Suite’s music. Misery is bliss.