Four years on from their last full length album, Newhaven duo Dandelion Charm return with album number three, Scream Inside the Tear. Although primarily a duo, DC are in every respect a band delivering a rich blend progressive folk rock, with multi-instrumentalist John Fowler undertaking all the musical parts, and alongside wife Clare delivers a rich tapestry vocals. Scream Inside the Tear is a lyrically dark album, but not without its lighter, more hopeful moments. Once again, Clare and John have chosen to ‘dig deep’ to produce a strongly themed concept album. Much like their previous release, Maybe Dreamers, Scream Inside the Tear is musically, conceptually and sonically captivating.
Spoken word introduces the album, immediately touching on the idea of – ‘ashes to ashes’ – postulating whether or not death is simply the end, or might we return in a different guise. The song itself rises from ethereal choirs, before a gentle and subtle arrangement, led by delicate acoustic guitar, takes us into the first verse. John takes the opening vocal, Clare the second, which they then alternate before coming to a crescendo at the end of the verse. Taking the formula one step further, they extend into a call and response. Stronghold of Oblivion is a fine introduction to the album, setting out the stall, so to speak.
From the outset, Scream Inside the Tear, like its predecessor, has a unifying subject matter. In broad terms, this album deals with the circle of life and how we, as humans, deal with a whole range of emotions, especially those surrounding the loss of someone close. Is there an afterlife – or once we are gone, is that it? Equally, mental illness, anxiety, the stresses of life and those coping mechanisms we employ to make sense of it are covered within the songs. The second track, Shouting at the Sea deals with life after losing someone. The thrust of the track urges us to make the most of the time you have with those close by:
From what I did know, I could tell
That this was the last thing on your mind…..
What words could ever signify
The sadness of a fight that can’t be won”
Musically the track captures the sentiment, which once again features acoustic guitar, underpinned by an imaginative keyboard arrangement, and with Clare’s earnest and melancholic vocal…
Sidestepping for a moment, one of the pitfalls of initially having to pre-listen to albums in the car is that the meaning of the lyrics can often be misconstrued, as was the case with up-tempo rocker Visions and Prophecies. A definite foot-tapper with a catchy organ hookline and an infectious chorus “- It makes you happy -“. But even in the car it didn’t feel like a particularly joyful song, which was later revealed with an in-depth listen, the ironic vocal chorus dealing with those struggling with the world and how others perceive their coping strategies.
In complete contrast, Ruth Rose, which according to the accompanying literature “is a song about the joy of early morning sea swimming and engaging with the natural world”. Living close to the North Sea, the ‘joy’ of such endeavours seems a little elusive to me, but the track itself is delightful and refreshing. The opening reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, however Dandelion Charm’s song takes a different course with references to Zep’s more psychedelic output surfacing during Warriors of the Morning. Here there’s a distinct tension that runs throughout the song, with the lyrical delivery particularly tortured, befitting the subject matter, which deals with the effects of anxiety. With an Eastern vibe from the guitars and percussion, along with the manipulated vocals, the torment is well and truly represented.
Now with such a deep and diverse backdrop to the album, which my copious notes will attest to, it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of digging too deeply and in the process failing to deliver a review to entice the reader to explore DC and their music. Remembering the first visit to DC’s website, the majority of photos were of Clare alongside John and an acoustic guitar, so I suppose what I was anticipating seemed a little at odds with parts of this intriguing quote on their website:
“Dandelion Charm blend folk, prog and rock, with a sound reminiscent of the late ’60s and early ’70’s. Think Fleetwood Mac meets Opeth, CSN meets Yes.”
The decades certainly worked for me; the Buckingham/Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac… yes; CSN, well certainly the quality of Clare and John’s vocal harmonies are in those realms; Opeth I didn’t hear; Yes, possibly, but in the vocals? Regardless, what I did discover was some great song writing, accompanied by a varied musical palette to back it up. This coupled with catchy melodies and hooklines, along with thoughtful lyrics and an overarching theme certainly was a great find.
Moving on, might the Scream Inside The Tear bring the latter two into focus? Well, in the middle part of the album there’s the proverbial ‘kitchen sink’ mini epic that is The Engineering of Consent. Lyrically it takes a side swipe at the darker side of marketing, the track title coming from an essay by Edward Bernays – referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”. For the opening sections we are in familiar territory, acoustic guitar, strings and the vocals which follow the guitar line are particularly engaging. Again, the vocals are DC’s USP… absolutely fabulous. The mid-section, however, brings their heavier side to the forefront. Meaty guitar riffs herald some flamboyant synth flourishes and great guitar breaks. Wow!
Wisely, the intro to Daydreaming in the Undertow takes proceedings down, however it’s relatively short-lived before DC hit us with another one of their rousing choruses. Much like the mid-’70s iteration of Fleetwood Mac, the infectious vocals belie the lyrical message, however in contrast to FM’s bittersweet personal backdrop, John and Clare pay homage to a friend following a life-changing illness. Closer to Fleetwood Mac’s lyrical sentiments perhaps is Today, which looks selflessly for ‘recognition’ of the inner person, echoed in the chorus’ “How do I feel”. Again, another catchy song, which in some respects is thematically continued into The Benefit of Experience – a life unfulfilled:
Pleading with tedium – Lost in the glare
Remembering that you once knew fear
Breathing with reasoning – A path so clear.”
With a light, jazzy backdrop during the verses, Clare and John’s lamenting vocals come crashing together in the chorus “… and that’s the benefit of experience”.
As with the album as a whole it is the nuanced arrangements that add weight to all the songs, evident from track one to the album closer What Alchemy? With chiming acoustic guitar and the duo’s mellifluous vocals, the track – and the album – could so easily have ended like this, but there’s always a twist in the tail. This time the music drifts into an ethereal backdrop, presumably representing the subject matter. We may be fortunate enough to find a true soulmate in life, however “We come here alone and we shall leave alone; there’s nothing that we can do to alter that.” The mood becomes darker before fading to a mournful lament…
All the deserts of sand
Don’t mean anything now.”
A stunning track from a stunning album…
To wrap things up – well we are nearing the festive season! – I was mightily impressed with Dandelion Charm’s previous releases, however with Scream Inside the Tear Clare and John have upped their game once more. Noteworthy here is that John has allowed himself more freedom of expression in his guitar playing, delivering numerous great solos. So… great songs with strong hooks, clever writing and arrangements, thoughtful lyrics and topped off with excellent production. What else? Did I mention the superb vocals?
01. Stronghold of Oblivion (5:32)
02. Shouting at the Sea (5:12)
03. Find A Way (3:17)
04. Visions and Prophecies (6:17)
05. Ruth Rose (4:35)
06. The Engineering of Consent (8:06)
07. Daydreaming in the Undertow (4:57)
08. Because (5:15)
09. Warriors of the Morning (4:20)
10. The Cure (5:46)
11. Today (4:59)
12. The Benefit of Experience (5:09)
13. What Alchemy? (4:19)
Total Time – 67:44
Clare Fowler – Vocals
John Fowler – Vocals, Guitars, Drums, Bass, Keyboards
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th October 2023