Heartbreakingly tender, intimate and open
After a nine-year break from music to raise her family, Dot Allison, originally a musician with strong roots in the UK techno and electronic scene, is back with the folk-inspired album Heart-Shaped Scars. With this album, Allison has pivoted into a dreamy transcendent realm of music that intersects the singer-songwriter’s personal life with her interests in nature, poetry and storytelling. Heart-Shaped Scars is a heartbreakingly tender, intimate and open album with astounding lyrical, emotional and instrumental depth.
Heart-Shaped Scars is an album crafted to be listened to as a folk album, and folk albums are made to be played in life’s most vulnerable moments: in a moment of brief stillness and solitude, during the quiet hours of the night or the lull of a conversation with a close friend.
Allison seems to have found her sound on Heart-Shaped Scars. Her previous albums Afterglow (1999) and We Are Science (2002) brought collabs with musicians such as Massive Attack, Scott Walker, Paul Weller and Kevin Shields reflected a trip-hop and electronic tone. This record, instead, presents a raw folk sound, evoking a strong era of ease and familiarity that just sounds right with Allison’s voice.
Allison has experimented with a mixture of genres such as psychedelic, folk and electronic music. Her experimentations began the album released right before her musical hiatus, Pioneers: Dot Allison, which wove a variety of different styles into an album that does not quite contain the clarity nor depth of the solely folk-based Heart-Shaped Scars.
The album begins with “Long Exposure,” a story about a lamenting lover awaiting for a lover that features Allison’s ukulele playing, plucked in a way that mimics the sound of a harp, a recurring instrument in the album’s 11 tracks. In “The Haunted,” Allison and Amy Bowman engage in an echoing, swirling vocal tag that evokes an otherworldliness of ghosts, ghouls and the dead.
“Can You Hear Nature Sing?” is a quiet gem that gives pause in between more dramatic songs, much like “Entanglement,” featuring minimal smatterings of natural noises, vocals and instrumentals, which acts as a palate cleanser in the middle of the album.
“Ghost Orchid,” with a feature from Homay Schmitz, is a song that evokes similarities to FKA Twigs’ “Mary Magdalene” as Allison layers a chorus of “God knows, I adored you” over a slow violin and the ukulele. It is one of the more nuanced tracks on the album, alongside other songs with features from Schmitz, due to the added depth of Schmitz’s deeper voice and a grounding piano.
“One Love” features a tumbling waterfall chorus of Allison’s voice, and “Love Died in Our Arms” exhibits another stunning and intense collaboration between Schmitz and Allison. Joined with drums, violin and string instruments, this song is more instrumentally complex than some of Allison’s solo tracks on the album. “Love Died in Our Arms” builds and crescendos into “Goodbye,” a sweet farewell song to the album that wishes the listener love.
With Heart-Shaped Scars, Dot Allison has created a folk album that folk music fans will love and that previous listeners of Dot Allison can certainly appreciate for its personal and confidential nature.