Gareth Dickson: Collected Recordings
Drifting Falling

Though Gareth Dickson cites Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Bert Jansch, Robert Johnson, and Nick Drake as influences, it's clearly the latter that stands out from that diverse crowd in Dickson's music. In fact, there are a few songs on Collected Recordings that are so sonically similar to Drake's, they could pass for out-takes or newly-discovered songs—which isn't to necessarily suggest that Dickson's material is equivalent in quality to Drake's or that it also will hold up for decades but that Dickson—vocally especially—at times sounds uncannily like the long-dead legend. Drake devotees will immediately hear evidence of his vocal style in the halting, spoken-sung whisper Dickson brings to “Song, Woman and Wine” and the stirring “As You Lie”; the influence is perhaps never more evident than when Dickson in “Two Trains” sings “Two trains running / Click, clack…click, clack / One of them going / The other coming back.” At such moments, one could be forgiven for thinking that Drake has somehow been brought back to life.

Nevertheless, Dickson's songs are extremely satisfying in their own right, and Collected Recordings registers as a special recording of the kind that appears all too rarely. The album's instrumentals are distinctive too, and exhibit Dickson's talent for creating tranquil and hazily-textured ambient settings. In the limpid opener “Fifth (The Impossibility of Death), harp-like guitar plucks echo in a reverb-drenched mix that's closer in spirit to atmospheric sound-sculpting than conventional folk music. The unhurried strums and plucks in the peaceful instrumentals “Trip in a Blanik” and “Harmonics” produce a quietly emotive and time-suspending impact that might remind some listeners of Ry Cooder's Paris, Texas soundtrack. One of the recording's major pleasures is found in listening to how Dickson so languorously lingers over a song's melodies; the mood throughout is so relaxed and the tempo so unhurried, the songs could pass for demos.

Dickson's certainly building up a name for himself. For the past two-and-a-half years, he's toured with Vashti Bunyan as her guitarist, plus he's worked with figures such as Devendra Banhart, Juana Molina, and Coco Rosie. So word's obviously getting ‘round, and the Glasgow, Scotland-based artist's oft-beautiful debut album (notwithstanding a previously-issued and self-produced album, Spruce Goose) will do nothing to change that. Throughout the fifty-minute recording, the finger-picking of his glistening steel-stringed acoustic guitar merges wonderfully with his fragile vocalizing, and the peaceful ambiance created by the slow-motion tracks is seductive too; if anything, the oasis of calm established by Collected Recordings is so soothing one would prefer to never leave.

June 2009