Review of Quite A Way Away [12k1070]

Textura (CA)

No doubt some long-time 12k listeners will raise an eyebrow or two upon hearing Gareth Dickson’s <i>Quite A Way Away</i>, as the album is far removed from the abstract electronic music reputation the label initially established for itself. But the move is a natural one, given that 12k has been evolving steadily in this organic electro-acoustic direction for the past few years, and as such Dickson’s album seems like a natural culmination of sorts. Regardless, those of us already enamoured of the troubador’s music are happy to hear it no matter the particular label involved.

The album’s material perpetuates the sound and style documented previously on his Drifting: Falling release <i>Collected Recordings</i>, so anyone charmed by it will find the new one equally satisfying. <i>Quite A Way Away</i> features eight songs, most of them haunting, vocal-based pieces with a couple of instrumentals also featured. The latter are hardly secondary to the vocal pieces, either, as the pastoral splendour of “Happy Easters” makes clear. The piece itself is so lovely, one almost misses the fact that it’s purely a product of acoustic guitar playing.

Dickson’s soft spoken-sung vocals are typically backed by little more than his own exquisite guitar picking, and the album as a whole exudes a time-worn, home-recorded feel, especially when the songs are captured on basic recording devices such as cassette machine, hand-held recorder, or four-track. The guitar playing offers its own share of delights, as Dickson coaxes a full range of sounds from the instrument, whether it be harp-like strumming or intricate clusters of finger-picking (such as during the title track, for example). Comparisons have been drawn between Nick Drake and Dickson before, and the second song, “Noon,” illustrates why in presenting a gently flowing dreamscape of softly murmured vocals and crystalline guitar lattices that wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on a Drake recording.

An undercurrent of anxiety pervades some of the material. The darker tone of “Get Together,” for example, imbues the song with a strong sense of urgency—at least until a sense of peaceful resolution is reached following a mid-song breakdown. “Nunca James,” on the other hand, feels buoyant, even jaunty by comparison. The sparseness of Dickson’s sound and approach are keenly documented on “This Is The Kiss” where a mere six lines of lyrics and an equally restrained accompaniment provide one of the album’s most powerful emotional pronouncements, one whose hypnotic impact grows in tandem with a gradually intensifying instrumental attack. The album’s most haunting song, however, is the closer, “Jonah,” which counters expressions of resignation (“Something is reaching an end / How careless of me to have got so old”) with an entrancing delcaration (“I will love you forever”) that with repetition grows more affecting.

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