My introduction to Dandelion Charm came in the shape of their Riding The Flood EP, released in January 2018, and as we hadn’t covered their 2015 debut album Tiny Drop, both releases were reviewed in one of our periodic ADA (A Different Aspect) Features. The ADA section is where we undertake shorter reviews of albums that have slipped under the radar.
Moving forward and due to unforeseen circumstances, followed swiftly by the festive season, I’ve had much longer to digest Maybe Dreamers, Dandelion Charm’s second full-length studio album. My initial thoughts were positive, however those extra few weeks have allowed me to fully appreciate the sheer depth and quality of this album.
I remarked in the ADA reviews of their first two releases that Clare and John Fowler, who, in essence are Dandelion Charm, “have warm and attractive voices and when combined together form a rich tapestry of harmony vocals that delight throughout”. On Maybe Dreamers I’d go one step further and say if ever two voices belong together then Clare and John’s certainly do. For evidence of this you need go no further than the album’s opening track, The Cult of More, with its haunting acoustic guitar and superbly harmonised vocals. The bittersweet melody leaves you in little doubt as to a deeper meaning to the song. Contrary to my initial thoughts the lyrics take a sideswipe at the multitudinous digital devices used daily, allowing modern-day consumerism to inveigle its way into our lives. So not tales of medieval insurgents invading New Haven then… 😉
Swiftly moving on. There is something in Stephanie, the first ‘single’ from the album, which took me back to The Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home. Not in a melodic sense, although notionally triggered by the ’60s sounding psychedelic guitar perhaps, but more the way the song laments a young woman embarking on life’s journey, only to have her dreams and aspirations dashed.
“Stephanie chose the mundane
In favour of glamour and pain
She’s seen and done it all
Ambitions of celluloid fame
Not knowing the rules of the game
She didn’t stand a chance.”
If the opening tracks have paved the way then the album’s title track cements all into place. A stomping, metronomic beat lays the foundation for the somewhat sparse, but highly effective, instrumentation, which in turn leaves space for Clare Fowler’s divine voice to coalesce those parts together. Lyrically we have a poignant observation of an ever-growing and gullible faction of the populous, diminishing creativity in the face of quick, ready-made solutions. I detect a concept here. At seven minutes there was an initial concern that Maybe Dreamers might run out of steam, however the pace is picked up at the midway point followed by two brief, but excellent and contrasting solos from John.
A little remiss of me, but so far I’ve not introduced Dandelion Charm properly, with the only two names mentioned thus far being Clare and John Fowler. Well, that’s because the whole album is written and performed by the duo and although live they do augment some of their shows with other musicians, on Maybe Dreamers they have gone it alone. Nothing new here as all previous releases have been undertaken in this fashion. As remarked on earlier, Clare and John have wonderful voices, separately and harmoniously, but along with this they have an affinity that shines through the music and why the album feels so cohesive.
Listening back to Tiny Drop, another significant change on Maybe Dreamers is the growing confidence of Clare and John, both as studio performers and also as composers and particularly evident in the two segued tracks, Arrogance and Blackmail and PityBomb. Listed as separate songs, there are common themes both musically and lyrically throughout. With the fear of repeating myself, here I would just say that the ten minutes that constitute these two tracks, from the jangling guitars and sonorous vocals of Arrogance and Blackmail, which gives way to the almost swaggering rock anthem PityBomb, bears out this premise.
Again harking back to my review of Tiny Drop, I was a little dubious as to what audience Dandelion Charm were aiming at. There was no doubting that the material was strong, well written and performed, but perhaps lacked its own identity. The Riding The Flood EP redressed much of my misgivings, however Maybe Dreamers is a different beast altogether. With this album, Dandelion Charm have well and truly stamped their own mark. And as to what direction they might follow – any one they choose would seem to be the answer.
Returning to the album, stronger evidence of the duos ever-broadening compositional skills comes in the with the somewhat left-field, bluesy groover Afraid of the Silence, with its percussive organ, snapping fingers and Steely Dan vibe. The music may have sidestepped, but lyrically we are on common ground and another dig at modern-day commercialism.
“The hunter seeks for the bargain of the year
You think your destiny’s fool proof
If you collect the right stuff then you’ll be safe
The salvation of purchase.”
We return to more familiar ground with the resonating twelve-string guitar, subtle strings and the lush harmonised vocals of Trying Hard. Is it a love song? Noooo, although you may well be lulled into thinking so during the opening bars. The songs delicate beginning transitions into a Fleetwood Mac styled stadium rocker – and whereas Ms Nicks and Mr Buckingham were at loggerheads with each other, the Fowlers are once again opposing the relentless marketing machines.
As we near the end of Maybe Dreamers there is a shift from the album’s underlying theme of consumer greed and avarice, offering a return to those things in life that really should concern us. An antidote to the modern mould, Isolate Resolve suggests we “…wipe away your tears and leave this place behind”, not with a whimper but with spirit and gusto. Probably the albums most “proggy” track, encapsulating the essence of the band whilst taking us on a more instrumental journey. There’s a wonderful ’70s vibe in the tracks two thematic instrumental breaks. Is that a (e)Mellotron I hear?
The album concludes with the piano-led Flicker which neatly segues from Isolate Resolve. With a repeated lyric “In all that I do visions of you flickering through”, the track fades with a wonderful solo from John – just a shame he didn’t leave the “tape” running for another minute or so… Or did he?
In conclusion, a terrific album musically, conceptually and sonically. John’s background of working within a commercial studio paying dividends on the sound front, which is warm, clear and the production values top-notch. Something you will not detect from the audio available through the Bandcamp link (unless you purchase the album of course), but certainly an insight to one of the albums that made my top ten in 2019.
01. The Cult of More (1:45)
02. Stephanie (4:30)
03. Maybe Dreamers (6:59)
04. Not Just A Kiss (4:10)
05. Arrogance and Blackmail (4:57)
06. PityBomb (4:34)
07. Afraid of the Silence (3:38)
08. Trying Hard (4:08)
09. Isolate Resolve (6:21)
10. Flicker (4:26)
Total Time – 45:28
Clare Fowler – Vocals
John Fowler – Vocals, Guitars, Drums, Bass, Keyboards
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 2nd November 2019