Given that Douglas Dare’s debut album Whelm was almost universally adored and praised, any revisiting of it should be welcomed – however brief and whatever form that might take. Bridport’s Dare has chosen to go back to Whelm and take three songs – plus one brand new track – to deliver to the listener in something of a new context. The Caroline/If Only EP is, unsurprisingly, a brilliant return to the tracks on that sumptuous record.
Whelm is a hugely sad and tumultuous record held together by Dare’s piano playing and poetic lyrics; it’s an album that’s pulled at, tugged this way and that, nearly torn apart by the electronics and beats he adds to many of these songs, giving the impression that he’s put just about everything he has into the album. It makes for an uneven and unsettling listen, but it’s turmoil we’ve all experienced and Dare has just captured that in sound.
So for Caroline/If Only, we have the elegiac title track in its original form, the piano still sounding huge and the lyrics (“It’s been countless days since last you wrote/countless more since last we spoke”) as dirge-like and perhaps taken from a baroque madrigal previously lost amongst dusty manuscripts. We also have a couple of remixes; fellow Erased Tapes alumni Rival Consoles takes on “Swim”, while Throwing Snow works some magic over “Nile”. For the former, Rival Consoles slows down (and mostly removes) the elastic bass and burbling electronics and highlights the quality of Dare’s beats and vocals; this minimal approach only serves to highlight the loneliness and longing of the track as Dare’s vocals are looped endlessly to give us a dolorous echo: “If only I could talk...” Throwing Snow’s remix of “Nile” seems to come in three parts: the beginning focuses on Dare’s voice and maudlin strings, then comes skittering beats smothering the piano of the original before, and in the words of the remixer himself, the whole track is “washed away in a torrent” of percussion and electronics. It’s a stunning conclusion, and Throwing Snow has truly created something new without losing the haunting emotion of Dare’s blueprint.
The only completely new track, which provides the If Only part of the EP’s title, is “If I Knew I Were Alive”. It’s a beautiful track very much in the vein of what we got on Whelm; based around vibrant harpsichord and Dare’s portentously echoing vocals, beats flash and pepper the track as he sings “If I knew I were alive, I could do so much better/If I knew what I had, then I could use it more wisely/If only I’d known before then I’d be in a better place already/If only..” It’s a haunting song, once again engulfing the listener with emotion and sonics, the raw and demo-like quality befitting the message.
Caroline/If Only serves not just as a reminder that the art of the remix is not dead in the right hands, but also that we’ve only just had a fleeting glimpse of Dare’s talent thus far. He could be set for incredible levels of achievement.