If the success of a recording artist was measured by the importance of their friends, Dot Allison would be much more of a household name by now. Her relative obscurity means that she is the kind of musician that musos cherish – on the tips of most people’s tongues, but so damn hard to place. Although she may exist on the fringes of the industry, she is certainly not short of a few A-list acquaintances, some of whom contribute to Allison’s impressive fourth studio album, Room 7½.
That’s not to say Allison’s work won’t ring quite a few subconscious bells – especially for electronic music aficionados. Her previous incarnation, as one third of techno outfit One Dove, spawned hits in the early ’90s and her subsequent solo ventures were definitely geared more to the electro audience.
1999′s pseudo-Goa chillout affair Afterglow and 2002′s Fisherspooner-inspired electro outing We Are Science are both well made recordings in their own right, illustrating Allison’s ability to, stylistically at least, alter her sound according to the prevailing music fashions. Ironically, Allison is still probably most famous – albeit in a ahhh-so-that’s-who-that-was way – for her two collaborations with Death In Vegas on the singles, Dirge and Diving Horses.
Room 7½ is basically a continuation of the folky, but rich-sounding Mazzy Star-esque direction that Allison adopted in 2006 with the Beneath The Ivy EP and then the full album, Exaltation Of Larks. After a fairly long hiatus it appeared that Alison had finally found her sound. Exaltation Of Larks didn’t fall off the back of any particular scene. It felt like a truer reflection of Allison’s fragility and for the first time, Dot Allison sounded like Dot Allison.
While Dot Allison still sounds like Dot Allison, Room 7½, at times, bears the colder sounds of later PJ Harvey. Opening track Cry drifts along icy waters like a tall ship shrouded in mist and moonlight. Allison’s haunted whispers overlay the song’s pared down piano-led arrangement and cumulatively feels a lot like a missing track from Harvey’s White Chalk album. The plaintive strumming and regretful lyrics of Buzzing Round The Honey Pots harbour the same “fuck you to all men” disdain of Uh Huh, Her: “Your love it slayed me brought me to my knees / but you been pollenating other flowers / pretty little orchids right beneath my feet.”
The title track follows on seamlessly, as Allison reveals her main means of respite and escape: “Pass me the whisky I need to still me / pass me the glass I need to steal me away.” The intensity of emotion is matched by the richness of the instrumentation. Cymbals crash and horns blare harmoniously as though they were actively encouraging Allison to find some solace.
The album’s maudlin midsection is completed with the close-to-unpalatable Fall To Me. Allison’s softly spoken poetry, although melancholic, helps to sway the mind away from the song’s doleful strings and minor piano chords: “Words fall from my lips like letters / doves once caged now fly unfettered / thought our hearts would remain unscathed / we’re still here but something’s changed.”
The appearance of Paul Weller and a subtle change in mood persuades Room 7½ to step out of the shadows. Love’s Got Me Crazy’s upbeat duet is an incongruous juncture, considering the love’s-got-me-really-angry-and-quite-sad subject matter of previous songs. Peter Doherty‘s cameo is also a slightly odd moment that it feels like one of his songs on which Allison is guesting. In any case, its Stooges “I wanna be your dog” rip-off works a treat and gives this otherwise quiet album momentary gusto.
Lyrically, Room 7½ is astonishing. Verses demand attention while its music often seeks to do the absolute opposite. During While She Sleeps, which marries melancholy with stiff resolution, Allison is barely audible when she whispers, “The twilight of our love / tiptoes into our room / it twists and weaves around us / like vines around the moon.”
While Room 7½ is not a particularly easy record to stomach, as Allison puts the listener through the most unpleasant of love’s vicissitudes, it possesses the kind of musical subtlety and lyrical beauty that should be repeatedly explored and forever savoured. With a little help from her friends, Dot Allison is proving she can do fine on her own.