Dave Scanlon
Photo: Whatever's Clever

Dave Scanlon’s ‘Taste Like Labor’ Is Quietly Intense

Dave Scanlon’s Taste Like Labor straddles a line between dark folk and fractured indie pop on his first solo album in more than two years.

Taste Like Labor
Dave Scanlon
Whatever's Clever
14 April 2023

Listening to Dave Scanlon perform one of his songs seems more than a little intrusive. His singing is gentle and a bit apprehensive as if he’s trying out the songs for the first time. Despite the gorgeous result of the dozen songs on Taste Like Labor, it feels like the listener is witnessing a test run, albeit a perfectly executed one. The often knotty acoustic guitar recalls complex progressive folk and more traditional indie folk. In short, the confluence of approaches Scanlon takes to his music guarantees a unique experience. There’s really nobody like him. 

The follow-up to 2021’s Pink in each, bright blue, bright green, Scanlon’s Taste Like Labor takes many of the same approaches as its predecessor. This time, he enlists the aid of Shannon Fields (Leverage Models, Stars Like Fleas) to produce and play keyboards. Bringing Fields into the fold was the right decision, as his layering of instrumentation beyond Scanlon’s usual acoustic guitar and Farfisa organ is subtle – never overtaking the recordings – but distinct. On the occasions when the keyboards are more prominent, such as on the spacey “Thus Went My Year”, they provide the perfect companionship to Scanlon’s stark pronouncements. 

“Building” kicks off Taste Like Labor in a stately, straightforward manner, as Scanlon’s fingerpicking accompanies his graceful, off-kilter lyrics: “Not land, not water / But a site nonetheless / To be a parent, to be a daughter / To be alone nonetheless.” Fields’ keyboards weave in and out of the composition, creating an unsettling and sonically rich atmosphere. That same tactic is employed in “Image Represent”, as Scanlon slows down the tempo but Fields’ twinkling keyboards keep up the mystic, almost psychedelic backdrop. 

Scanlon may be best known as one-quarter of the experimental Brooklyn quartet JOBS, and it speaks to his immense talents that he can immerse himself in the arty cacophony of that band while also producing the quiet, almost meditative folk found on albums like Taste Like Labor. Living alongside the intensity of some of the songs are somewhat sunny and optimistic tracks, at least from a musical standpoint. In “Fearful People”, the usual fingerpicking is replaced with easy strumming and an easygoing vibe. This masks the lyrics’ dark, twitchy feel, including the refrain, “Defensive, fearful people in violent homes.”

Likewise, the almost childlike shuffle of “Why Do You Ask” is exquisite and lightly complex, with lyrics that beg for more elaboration and explanation. “Should their heart change with the light of day,” Scanlon sings. “Devil took my home and saints took my tears away / Does each day seem to build on the other / Chased down old dreams, old flames, old lovers.” Following up this undeniably light and catchy earworm with the gaunt, almost drone-like “Crystals” suggest an artist who revels in offering a variety of moods within a single release. “Daytime Feeling” continues in the same unnerving vein, with field recordings (courtesy of Fields) adding another layer of mystery, while “I Am With My Feelings” combines experimental electronics with a lo-fi aesthetic.

Taste Like Labor closes with “Anne”, the second instrumental, and this subtle recording combines a wonderfully jazzy acoustic guitar performance with quiet squalls of electronics. It’s a tough trick to pull off successfully, but the track conveys odd, experimental weirdness – something both Scanlon and Fields do exceptionally well – within a gentle musical atmosphere. It’s as if to say, “This stuff is strange and unique, but we welcome you here, so have a seat.” Scanlon’s music will probably never fully embrace traditional musical structures, but that’s OK; nobody would expect him to stoop to that level. 

RATING 8 / 10