Dot Allison’s new LP, Heart-Shaped Scars, is a triumphant return for one of the UK’s finest songwriters. Furthermore, it shows her uncanny ability to gather like-minded musicians to facilitate her musical vision.
She released Room 7½ in 2009. And then mostly silence apart from the occasional dip into soundtracks and the odd collaboration. In that time, she started a family in her birthplace of Edinburgh with the film music composer Christian Henson.
Introducing Dot Allison’s fifth LP: Heart-Shaped Scars
Her new, fifth, album, Heart-Shaped Scars, follows the pattern of her recording career. That is, she consistently challenges 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, she continues her musical journey.
Production luminary Fiona Cruickshank and Mercury Prize nominee Hannah Peel (string arranger on four songs, courtesy of a quintet of Scottish folk musicians) contributed to the LP’s sessions. She shared songwriting/vocal duties with singer-songwriters Amy Bowman ‘The Haunted’ and Zoë Bestel ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’.
The LP is steeped in Scotland’s folk tradition with The Wicker Man malevolence just lurking, 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. This reviewer speculates, at the risk of mansplaining, that the joy of motherhood (expressed by her in various interviews), and being settled in her birthtown, finds her at peace with herself and the confidence that surely brings.
This self-belief saw her return to the fray with a single ‘Long Exposure’ timed at five and a half minutes. This shows a recording artist happy to explore ideas to their natural conclusion and not one worried about shifting units.
Heart-Shaped Scars is as beautiful as a sunny day on a deserted beach, as joyful as children playing, as dark as a lonely night in a forest. Cherish it, 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 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 (The Libertines). And she co-scored a track for Ecstasy, a film adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel, with Darren Emerson (Underworld).
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.
But maybe the most leftfield of her collaborations was providing backing vocals on ‘Bull’ by Scott Walker + Sunn O))). Maybe she is fond of extreme music, manifested in the Napalm Death-esque 42-second track, ‘Entanglement’ on the new LP?
Following the Mercury Prize nomination of her friend/collaborator, Hannah Peel, expect Dot to figure in next year’s awards lists. Perhaps not 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 , at Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh, with Fiona Cruickshank, Hannah Peel, and the awesome ensemble of brilliant musicians.
The new record, and merch, is available at https://dotallison.com/.