Dot Allison’s first lp in over a decade is a triumphant return of one of the UK’s finest songwriters and demonstrates her uncanny ability to gather like-minded musicians to facilitate her musical vision.
She released Room 7½ in 2009 and then mostly silence, understandably so, apart from the occasional dip into soundtracks and the odd collaboration, as she took time to raise a family in her birthplace of Edinburgh with the film music composer Christian Henson.
Her new, fifth, album, Heart-Shaped Scars, follows the pattern of her recording career, in which she has consistently challenged herself, and her fans, by never settling on a particular style, always evolving. From trip hop via synth pop to torch songs to club DJ residencies, Allison has always been on a musical journey.
For this LP’s sessions, she was joined by production luminary Fiona Cruickshank, Mercury Prize nominee Hannah Peel (string arranger on four songs, courtesy of a quintet of Scottish folk musicians) and shared songwriting/vocal duties with singer-songwriters Amy Bowman ‘The Haunted’ and Zoë Bestel ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’. The album was recorded at Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh.
The new release is steeped in the folk tradition of Scotland with The Wicker Man malevolence just below the surface, occasionally explicitly so as in ‘Long Exposure’ and ‘The Haunted’.
The influence of nature is unmistakeable, not only in Allison’s poetic imagery but also in the field recordings of birdsong, rivers, and seascape sounds. Her love of the natural world is best expressed in the gorgeous ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’ Similarly, the wonder of life, the universe, and everything is beautifully celebrated in ‘Constellations’ underscored by a viola (to these ears) line to die for.
Heart-Shaped Scars is her most consistent, fully realised LP to date. It leads this reviewer to speculate, at the risk of mansplaining, that the joy of motherhood (expressed by her in various interviews), and being settled in her birth town, finds Allison at peace with herself and the confidence that surely brings.
This self-belief allowed her to return to the musical fray with a single ‘Long Exposure’ that clocks in at five and a half minutes. This is not a person worried about shifting units, instead it shows a recording artist happy to explore ideas to their natural conclusion.
Heart-Shaped Scars is as beautiful as a sunny day on a deserted beach, as joyful as children playing in a park, as dark as a lonely night in a forest. It is to be cherished, especially when the world at large is often extremely ugly.
But, it’s best to leave the final words about what the album represents to Ms Allison herself: “Love, loss and a universal longing for union that seems to go with the human condition. To me, music is a sort of tonic or an antidote to a kind of longing, for a while at least.”
Dot Allison: the missing years?
Dot wasn’t totally inactive, in a musical sense, for the twenty teens. She worked with Pete Doherty of The Libertines and, separately, with Darren Emerson, formerly of Underworld, on a track for Ecstasy, a film adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel.
As mentioned above, Dot has occasionally forayed into TV and film soundtracking. Indeed, she recently worked with Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre on the crime drama television series, Annika, which is airing now.
But maybe the most leftfield of her collaborations was providing backing vocals on ‘Bull’ by Scott Walker + Sunn O))). Perhaps she has a previously unrevealed fondness for extreme music that manifested in the Napalm Death-esque 42-second track, ‘Entanglement’ on the new LP?
Following the Mercury Prize nomination of her friend and collaborator, Hannah Peel, expect Dot to figure in the awards lists next year. Perhaps not in an explicitly commercial vehicle like the Mercurys but maybe the Novellos in recognition of the songcraft and production values on this album. Trust your humble scribe’s intuition! See my last prediction here.
Why not stick around a little longer on the site? Check out my interview with Dot last year when she was recording Heart-Shaped Scars with Fiona Cruickshank, Hannah Peel, and the awesome ensemble of brilliant musicians.
The new record, and merch, can be purchased from https://dotallison.com/.