Douglas Dare‘s first two albums, Whelm and Aforger, saw him establish himself as a musician and lyricist of note while addressing a range of subjects that spanned human relationships, dystopian fiction, sexuality and identity. Some of these themes reappear on third album Milkteeth but they are primarily focused through a prism of Dare’s childhood memories, from growing up in rural Dorset as part of an extended family. The 11 songs here offer a quiet rumination on youth, coming of age and all that entails.
Opening track I Am Free sees him pick up where he left off from his earlier albums, with gentle piano and delicate lyrics that see him declare “I am free and I can feel love”. Yet, these positive sentiments soon begin to be outweighed by more troublesome recollections.
On Heavenly Bodies he questions himself on whether he “can I grow up, be a man” and there’s further insecurity later as he apprehensively wonders “are my parents proud of me?”. Silly Games sees him sing about trying to escape domestic isolation and unappealing family settings – “Mother’s in the kitchen washing plates, Father’s with the animals and sure to be late”. There are signs of hope however in an unnamed other – “but I see you and I love our silly games”.
The Joy In Sarah’s Eyes contains another positive memory about a friendship with a younger child that provides comfort – “I remember the joy in your eyes, the joy is still in me, it keeps me alive”. Red Arrows meanwhile is sung in a round and the circular, overlapping vocals further reinforce the feeling of simplicity associated with childhood. Musically, the autoharp provides a new sound for Dare’s music on many tracks, giving the album a lighter, more refined feel.
Playground sees him at his intoxicating best, the song on the album that flows most naturally and arguably possessing the strongest line in relatable lyrics. “Can I be a child again?” he sings, a sentiment many others will have longed for over the years. Run re-establishes the sombre mood and brings the album to an ominous close as he confides “if you’re reading this I’ve ran away”. We’re left to ponder in silence what happens next.
There’s clearly a sense of liberation for Dare in releasing all these stories and feelings into the open, and Milkteeth is undoubtedly a brave detour on his musical journey, with some standout moments. But overall there’s a risk it may ultimately prove too personal and introspective a listen for some.