It has been 10 years since we last heard from Dani Siciliano. Whilst perhaps best known for her collaborative work with her former partner Matthew Herbert (particularly on Around The House and Bodily Functions), her previous solo albums captured a distinctive sound, both elegant and quirky, with a desire to experiment with the possibilities of sound. This third album is the culmination of eight years’ worth of writing and research and is clearly purposefully self-titled – an indication that is very much Siciliano’s most individual and personal work.
The production hand of Matthew Herbert is actually not greatly missed here, given the extent to which Siciliano has developed her own distinctive and effective sound. It’s an intriguing blend that nods to her past work by drawing on electronics, whilst also placing greater emphasis on more ‘natural’ sounds (Siciliano’s voice, often featured in enticing, multi-layered arrangements, warm keyboards, prominent acoustic guitar on So Amazing and Together). The result is a nuanced and sophisticated pop music, sometimes introspective and always thoughtful. It could blend comfortably in to the background without due attention, but it very much rewards close listening.
It is crucial that the album begins with Siciliano’s voice. The multi-tracked count that both sets the tempo and ushers in the compelling, layered Why? is suggestive of Siciliano working largely alone, shaping and enhancing her own songs. The approach reaches an imaginative zenith on the powerful, impressively detailed Blink, which feels like Siciliano persistently bouncing ideas between different versions of herself.
Whilst Blink benefits from some forthright drums, Siciliano’s use of rhythm, whilst imaginative, is more frequently subsumed within a broader framework, supporting her elaborate melodies and harmonies. Frequently downtempo, the music is designed for immersive listening rather than for a club environment. The percussion track behind Come On is a brilliant case in point. The track begins with insistent handclaps, although it eventually transpires that these are not what will drive the music. Instead, as so often here, it is Siciliano’s multi-tracked vocals that imbue the music with distinctive character and purpose.
Everything else exists to frame or enhance these vocal tracks. Similarly, I’m The Question, perhaps the most propulsive track here, sustains interest more for the intriguing interactions between the various vocal lines. On Gone Are Those Days, the rhythmic motion is largely provided through what sounds like a muted repeated piano note. Siciliano’s voice is understated rather than forceful, the sort of voice that communicates through the subtle detail in both attack and phrasing rather than through displays of virtuosity. Yet the songs here are not cold or detached, but rather Siciliano’s most human and emotional work.
If the resulting music is difficult to categorise, this ought to be positive. It’s an engaging, atmospheric hybrid, with Siciliano herself very much in the foreground. Whilst there is plenty of successful experimenting with production techniques and sound, there is also a greater sense of expression through the vehicle of the song itself. This perhaps helps explain both the relaxed, hazy feel of Together or the strong melodic hooks of Take Two or Blink. Dani Siciliano has made a lush, intricately arranged work that emphasises her qualities as a songwriter and producer as well as a singer.