I was – and fervently remain – a huge admirer of Dec Burke’s third studio album, Book of Secrets (released in 2016). From the outset there is a wonderful, infectious energy which drives pulsating rhythms carrying songs bristling with power, urgency and a passionate sense of immediacy. It is an album which positively exudes character, expressed by musicianship that is incisive, vigorous and dynamic.
Having possibly given away the fact that I may be something of a fan, I am pleased to report that Life in Two Dimensions opens with exactly the same lively spirit and explosive momentum. The title track sizzles with that full-frontal, attention-grabbing trademark wall of scintillating riffing and pounding musical thrust which sparkles, dances and cannot fail to delight. It brings a wonderfully life-affirming smile of exuberance to your face.
Yet as you find yourself being joyfully carried away on the thrilling crest of melodic tides, keep a weather eye open for a more sombre and ever-present undertow which pervades the entire album and makes this an entirely different kind of release from Book of Secrets. If the devil is indeed in the detail, keep an eye on the lyrics and be prepared to hear as well as be open to the underlying currents which give this album significant substance and depth.
Dec uses effervescent rhythms to form a cradle which captures one of the main lyrical themes pervading the record.
And time is running short it seems.”
Standing in sharp relief to the vibrancy of the music, it dawns a more sobering experience is fuelling what we are hearing. Although the feeling is immediately dissipated with a return to the thrumming rhythm of the chorus, the anguished guitar solo which follows is an agonising cry straight from the heart, full of troubled passion, carrying a restless yearning, relieved by soaring highs providing a sense of release.
Nor does the pace diminish as we move seamlessly to Emergency. A breathless, heady up-tempo opening perfectly mirrors the frantic and frenetic pace of modern living, the music excitable and intoxicating. Yet even here, the undertow increasingly makes its unsettling presence felt with the simulated sounds of an ambulance siren and lyrics giving voice to a lostness, an ungrounded feel, a sense of being adrift.
The full presence of the undertow is finally revealed when the rhythmic/lyrical contrasts contained within the songs themselves transition to contrasts between the songs as well. The running order is no accident. This Time arrives with a totally unexpected change of pace. No bombast or dazzling grandstanding here. Instead, we have a delightfully gentle and delicately relaxed symphonic restraint, framed with a tender, almost choral refrain echoing the repeated and wistful sentiment “I’m falling to pieces”. It feels like a laying bare of the soul: Dec’s voice stands centre stage and shoulders an emotional load which is thoughtful and resonant. A studied guitar solo at 2:15 brings a yearning cry; “listen to my heart it craves relief” and a lingering cello whispers gently as the track comes to an end.
Fly With Broken Wings is a momentous game changer, elevating the entire album to an entirely different level.
Help me so I can find the strength to carry on
Help me to be all I want to be
Help me fly with my broken wings.”
There is a palpable, aching sense of helplessness, of frustration and of loss. The agony of isolation, the pain of absence and the emotional loneliness which comes with it is excruciating. The almost monkish simplicity of the main verses creates a hypnotic yet determined steeliness which contrasts with the rich moment where he breaks away and lets the melody sing. A simple repeating piano chord sequence enables a momentous guitar solo to soar as it cries out to be noticed, to be heard: we were here, I am still here.
As well as the dynamism, as well as the revealing contrasts, however, there is also a highly intelligent use of subtlety and distinction in creating depth and structure. Trapdoor is the longest on the album and a fitting close. Across nearly ten minutes it twists, turns, takes detours, teases and finally delivers a striking and satisfying conclusion.
A gentle acoustic opening guitar slowly builds layers before an abrupt intrusion of electric chords disrupts without displacing. A drum led discordant passage segues to an attacking passage of brightly skipping keys on top of a vocal presence riding guitar foundations, returning to discord once more. We segue again to a tranquil, floating piano and acoustic guitar. Delicate. Nuanced. A welcome relief and an oasis of calm as emotional undercurrents lead to an assertive vocal carried on a growing bedrock of power chords and solid rhythms.
Then we return to the discordant before driving toward a pacey conclusion, galloping drums, ridden by an almost screaming high register guitar and a classic concert-style conclusion. A huge shout out to Scott Higham for exemplary drumming on this and across the whole album.
By the time silence descends, you know you’ve been on a journey. This musical experience mirrors the troubled, disturbing times in which we live, laden with feelings of loss, loneliness, confusion, strangeness, the exuberance of hope, the suffocating crush of isolation. I am surprised this album has not garnered the attention it rightly deserves since its release. It is well worth the time spent in its challenging presence.
01. Life in Two Dimensions (5:09)
02. Emergency (3:50)
03. Sister X (4:47)
04. This Time (4:37)
05. Sunlight (4:32)
06. Love Steel (5:03)
07. Energy (3:19)
08. Fly with Broken Wings (5:31)
09. Paper Fortress (7:42)
10. Trap Door (9:48)
Total Time – 54:18
Dec Burke – Guitars, Vocals
Guilherme Aguilar – Bass, Cello
Robin Armstrong – Keyboards, Bass, Backing Vocals, Mixing, Mastering
Kristoffer Gildenlöw – Bass
Scott Higham – Drums
Reinier Siemons (Dilemma) – Bass
Robin Z. (Dilemma) – Piano
Record Label: Gravity Dream Music
Formats: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 24th September 2021