An album that has to be immersed in and savoured, there’s nobody else out there making music quite like this
Richard Dawson has always been an artist who ploughs his own furrow, so to speak. He could be described as avant-garde folk, but that doesn’t even quite begin to describe his more challenging output. One minute he could be recording a relatively accessible song about a parent watching his child’s football match or about going jogging to combat anxiety, the next he could be collaborating with a Finnish heavy metal act. Expect the unexpected, should be the mantra.
Dawson’s latest album, The Ruby Cord, is the concluding part of a trilogy which began with Peasant in 2017. That record was set in the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Bryneich between 400 and 600 CE from the point of view of a series of different narrators, while the follow up, 2020 tackled a similar idea but in the present day. The Ruby Cord finishes the project by setting its scene at some point in the distant future after societal norms have collapsed and evolved into a new way of living. To clarify again, Richard Dawson does things his own way.
To describe The Ruby Cord as not being an easy listen would be like calling the surface of the sun ‘a tad hot’. This is an album with seven tracks, but whose running time nudges 80 minutes. The first track alone, The Hermit, lasts 41 minutes and comes complete with its own film, which will be shown at cinemas and art spaces around the country. There is no semblance of a catchy melody anywhere, you’ll more than likely have absolutely no idea what Dawson is singing about, and there are many times where his, shall we say, idiosyncratic singing voice may cause you to wince slightly.
And yet… the more you listen to The Ruby Cord, the more it makes a beautiful, eerie kind of sense. The Hermit spends its first five minutes simply making noise, with its instruments slowly drifting in, and then drifting out again. Drums are brushed quietly; a guitar picks out a melody without ever really gaining steam – it’s a bit like an orchestra tuning up slowly. Dawson doesn’t even start singing until 11 minutes in, and when the song starts to gradually come together and seems to head towards its climax, it’s actually not even halfway through. There’s still an a cappella session to go, before a choral vocal session kicks in for the oddly beautiful last 10 minutes. And this is just the start of the album.
Dawson also knows how to create a bit of a noise, as The Fool (which is, in a very loose sense, maybe the most accessible track on The Ruby Cord) and sometimes, even with songs as impenetrable as these, he can tug on the heartstrings in an unexpectedly emotional way – such as the moment in The Museum, where everything goes quiet, and Dawson softly sings “distant memories… distant memories of you”. The last two minutes, where the backing vocals come in and join Dawson, are the most uplifting moments of the album.
The record’s second longest track, The Tip Of An Arrow, is a mere 10 minutes, and is arguably a more successful song than The Hermit – it builds up into quite the strut, which sounds weirdly like a slowed down version of The Breeders‘ Cannonball, before slowly winding back down again. That’s followed by the record’s shortest track, No-one, which is literally two minutes of instrumental ambient noise.
It’s fair to say that The Ruby Cord is an acquired taste. At times, it’s startlingly beautiful, at others it’s close to unlistenable. Sometimes, the lush arrangements build so gorgeously that you can’t help but smile, as in the beautiful last few minutes of closing track Horse And Rider – and then at others, such as on The Hermit, you’re almost willing for something to happen. Like much of Richard Dawson’s material, it’s an album that has to be immersed in and savoured – and although it may be a struggle sometimes, there’s nobody else out there making music quite like this.