Dot Allison’s latest album, Heart-Shaped Scars, is a lovely, intimate collection of beautiful songs that has the singer set aside her trip-hop and dance sounds for an ethereal folk musical direction. Though the lack of dance beats and electronics is noticeable, it’s not a huge, uncomfortable departure for the singer as her some of her solo work threaded acoustic tones throughout the electronic beats. But for Heart-Shaped Scars, it’s all beautiful, gossamer strings and hushed vocals with the kind of confessional singer-songwriter lyrics that make for an intimate listen, at once chilly and warm.
The delicate dream-folk arrangement of “Long Exposure” betrays the bruised and angry lyrics in which she laments the betrayal of a lover. Her fragile and quivery voice imbues the song with suitable vulnerability. She takes on the role of a sorrowful troubadour, warbling mournfully over the plinking strings, the unbearable sadness made more profound by a lamenting violin.
The second track, the appropriately titled “The Haunted”, a wonderful collaboration with singer-songwriter Amy Bowman, is a redolent story song with cryptic lyrics that have an eerie, otherworldly feeling, finding inspiration in the lyrical work of Tennyson. And the harmony vocals are evocative of the unnerving imagery of the song’s words.
And though much of the following track, “Constellations”, shares sounds and lyrical themes with the first two songs, the strumming guitar gives the song a more folk-pop structure and leans into the album’s wandering minstrel tone. It has a loose backing percussion that provides the sound with a tighter, more constructed arrangement than the gauziness of the other songs on the album. The drums also vaguely recall her trip-hop sounds from the past – it’s an effective link to her previous works.
As the songs progress on Heart-Shaped Scars, the record title makes a lot of sense as it’s an emotionally naked and open album. Dot Allison is a candid and sensitive artist who weaves little mini-stories that sound precious and beautiful but have intelligent, brave, and thoughtful lyrics. On the album’s best song, “Ghost Orchid”, Allison’s intimate vocals are backed by a fuller orchestration with a thrilling chorus that’s achingly beautiful with a moving string section equal parts informal and epic.
Another high point on an album full of them is the waltz-like “Cue the Tears”, an indie folk-pop number with a catchy hook that manages to thaw some of the album’s overall wintry frost. It’s the one song that sounds most radio-ready, but it still maintains the record’s intelligence and esoteric sensibility.
Despite Dot Allison’s groundbreaking and innovative work in dance music, this direction is a winning one. The lo-fi production with the brittle, fine production – it’s like a diaphanous dew-dropped web floating in the wind – is a fantastic fit for the singer’s confessional and frank lyrics as well as her angelic vocals. There’s heartache, pain, and longing in the songs, but there’s also an inspired inspiration from that pain resulting in some very touching and beautiful music.