'Shut Us Down'
Being described as a "male Lana Del Rey" is not an especially flattering comparison, to my mind. Luckily, Freddie has the vocal prowess to overcome sloppy journalism.
Availability: 'Shut Us Down' is available via http://soundcloud.com/freddie-dickson/freddie-dickson-shut-us-down
I'll take a different slant, when describing the solo market...
because a few hours ago, whilst extolling the virtues of Johnny Sands, I covered a fairly conclusive patch of land. I have noticed an indelible corkscrew currently wedged in the blood-brain barrier of the music industry. For every solo artist worth their potential weight in gold, there appears to be an insurmountable obstacle that is in place, stopping them from truly being appreciated widely; and by an audience who are unslaked, and hungry. Historically, at least, the most memorable voices have resonated from those who have a disregard for what corporate minds required, and what is seen as 'fashionable'. In that regard, they have a hereditary attitude of contumacious rebel. The likes of Freddie Mercury, Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Robert Plant and Stevie Wonder have always made music to inspire and enthral fans, as well as stay true to who they are, where they have come from, and where they want to go. It is this unbridled authenticity and desire not to compartmentalise fans and sectors; instead draw people together, that has meant they have had their names carved into the eternal public consciousness. With few exceptions, the greatest singers tend to be part of a band. There are enough solo artists who have managed to ignite the senses, but, whether it is down to the combined talents of their cohorts, or something else; it has always worked better when there are 3 or 4 other people with you, bringing the best out of your voice. In the last 15 years or so, coinciding with the death and marginalisation of the Britpop movement, there has been a renewed focus on the solo artist, and going it out alone. It can be a lonely and tough environment. Great singers write their own music, and if you are on your own, there is that extra pressure to be good, as well as the burden that comes with having to shoulder any expectation or critical benchmark. To be fair, there are a lot more solo artists than there needs to be. It is admirable that so many want to be involved with music, and each want to have their voices heard. Although the fact of the matter is that so few actually have any discernible voice at all. I have heard a lot of songs used in commercials over the last few months. Ranging from promotions by John Lewis, B&Q and various mobile network providers, each has featured some reedy, pointless voice, in need of palliative care. Most are- unfortunately- from female artists, and is staggeringly depressive that it is felt simple being able to sing in tune and be vaguely human are criteria enough to be able to create music. They are not. Far from it. To add an injurious cherry to the top of the kick in the nuts cake, a lot of the tracks have been covers. 'Don't Stop', 'Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' are two fairly recent examples, and made my skin crawl each time I heard them. It is- as you can tell- a bug I have about singers. Being someone who has been honing his voice for 14 years, and writing original material for several years longer, I get sick and tired when I hear of some 'next big thing' being thrust forward; only to discover they are a dismal dirge of an artist.
The male market seems to have suffered from the same fate. I have never got the appeal of, or been interested in Ed Sheeran. He has an average voice, and is a dreadful songwriter, who has garnered a sea of praise, for reasons inexplicable. This seems to be all too common, in an industry where the public can be reduced to performing seal by the mere mention of a guitar and a healthy head of hair. It was George Orwell whom wrote: "Man is only creature that consumes without producing". It seems pertinent as far as music goes. I have a lot of time for the likes of Justin Timberlake, and artists who can write and perform a decent set of songs, but they are in a vast minority. The worrying hypochondroplasia seems to endemic of a wider malaise: fickle and immature market force. The pre-pubescent and teen market is a burgeoning one, and those largely responsible for the popular rise of sub-par artists. There is, however, a loyal core of solo artists that are truly mandible-dropping. Some of female (Jessie Ware, Laura Marling); some male (Matt Corby, Bon Iver); but it is the upcoming talent, where most eyes are focused. I was informed of the existence of Freddie Dickson, by a very wise and cultured fellow music lover, whom has steered me to some notable artists recently. Freddie is brand new; he is 24-years-old; he is English; and has been collating a small band of followers for a little while. '405' compared Freddie to Lana Del Rey. That is the first thing that annoyed me. I like Del Rey as a human; take away the controversy, the endless commercialisation, and such, and underneath is a genuine and sweet woman. She comes across as someone who is a normal woman, and is aware that her career may not be as long as most. Musically, however, there is little to recommend. Her debut album contained, at best, 3 great songs, with a lot of filler. The hoopla and press around her, perhaps gave false promise. As much as anything she is a marketing tool; a creation; a commodity that can stand next to a sports car, where a cardigan, and flog whatever the hell a company needs her to sell. She has a few aces up her sleeve: a great voice, the odd sharp lyric, and an ability to conjure mood and melody with unequivocal aplomb. If you are to compare the two, it would simply be down to the fact that they have an equal love of conjuring stirring soundtracks, and not solely relying on their voice to do the talking. I can see the two of them becoming close; like characters from 'Naked Lunch'; they could collaborate. But I feel that there are few linear adjectives that can be shared. There is a vague procedendo between their musical relationship, but nary else. I'll take a better stab at this...
The opening seconds of 'Shut Us Down' are awash with re-verb and strange sounds, that could be a sample of sound reversed, or a mutated snatch that has been elongated and altered, to create a dizzying hum. There is a lot in the way of Radiohead's 'Kid A' experimentation in the opening. I was reminded of 'Treefingers' quite a lot, as well as Yorke's solo work (and recent work with Atoms for Peace). There is that same sort of electronic mood and pout, that at once can enthrall and sedate. The first moments, bring to mind, dark city scenes and buzzing neon signs. It is an audio sample that would fit as much at home sound-tracking a Michel Gondry film, as it would being as an emotional ballast piece on Breaking Bad. Just after the strange organ/machine-cum-early '00s Oxford has time to sink beneath the waves like Resurgam, a beautiful voice enters. This would be roughly what I was referring to by 'mandible dropping'. In the same way that Jeff Buckley did when he first opened his mouth to sing over 20 years ago, or Antony Hegarty did (back before 'I Am a Bird Now), there is an instant and visceral reaction upon hearing Dickson's honeyed tones. To my (slightly) trained ears, I was hearing a little of Patrick Watson (whom himself is a small doll inside of Chris Martin, whom is underneath Jeff Buckley matryoska foundation). There are some familiar comparable that can be traced in the vocal, but nothing so obvious as to dilute the potency at all. Like the Canadian Watson, Dickson manages to elicit a majesty of beauty, not from soulless penile displays like so many male singers, but by allowing a sensitive and delicate whisper guide the notes. The verse is awash with barely contained emotion, as one can only imagine the atmosphere of candles and hushed silence when the song was recorded. When the mantra: "Just don't/Just don't hide away" it is a once a truncated chorus, as well as the first stunning punch, that will elicit a mesmeric calm amidst the soul. From there, the music gives a little tribulation; in the same was as Massive Attack did for 'Teardrop'; Dickson lets us know his pulse is still there, underneath the heartache. There is a pleasing and emphatic backing vocal, that sounds like a choir of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. Perhaps past the one-third mark there is a similar melodic sound to that of Del Rey's 'Born To Die', but with a much greater emotional impact. It is said that, Dickson's sweetheart, has become scared "of what I've become". There is a definite need for depannage; hearts have been broken, which have caused bleak causality; the body and soul is starting to fade, too. Dickson is "numb" and keen, it seems, to have his projection subjected to a beta test, and for his rattled spirits to be safely ensconced. The refrain returns, to add credence and weight to what is being said; it has a simple and forceful pull that can simultaneously be chanted at festivals, or whispered in dark bedrooms. "If only/We could start again", seems to be the bedrock and business plan; the lyrical territory may be safe and familiar ground, but the way that the raw and worn out mood, combines with the ethereal and tender vocal, is a spellbinding treat. Shakespeare wrote in 'King Lear': "Nothing will come of nothing: speak again". The song seems as much as an exaltation as it does a plea. The unwavering plaintively then is replaced by something much more cannibalistic. A vocal crescendo is unleashed, almost indicative of a breakdown; the words "I should have stopped", are almost wailed; as if the young man were drowning, performed a sin of omission, or was simply at the end of his rope that hangs from a ceiling rafter. It is tornado that comes after the calm before the storm, and drags your head and heart in opposing directions. As one would expect, the effect and aftertaste is something quite profound.
I am filled with praise for Dickson. At times there were large chunks of Patrick Watson, and similar troubadours in the vocal sound and enunciation; that same smoky falsetto. I can imagine that Dickson's voice is much more utilitarian, capable I'm sure of being able to scale the demanding peaks of hard rock and metal, as it would be of matching many modern-day chanteuses. The lyrics are obviously whole-heartily relatable to anyone who has even suffered the fall out from a break-up, and there is no mordant self-flagellation; merely bare-boned proclamation and earnest soul-bearing. The sonic landscape is awash with tension, calm and metamorphosis. The resultant Big Bang, is sure to win many a fan, the world over. There are so few genuinely intriguing and exciting solo artists, that are capable of penning impressive songs and hanging gorgeous vocals on top of them. For any anyone who feels compelled to slovenly label Dickson as a male counterpart to Del Rey, they need to listen to both in isolation and see that there are very few comparables. Aside from a similar talent for atmosphere and stunning emotional resonance, the voices and biographies are worlds apart, and Del Rey appeals to very few male music lovers. For someone who is always on the hunt for scintillating and enrapturing talent, I will be watching Dickson, with a sweaty and fervent brow. There obviously be a lot of new music coming soon, from the young Londoner. For now, play 'Shut Us Down'; play it again, and let it wash over you, and better yet; let it inspire you to pick up pen and paper and unshackle any demons that are lurking in your heart, eager to escape. In a year where the most stunning albums will arrive in May and June, and the majority will be from established and populist acts, it will be exciting to see how Dickson's forthcoming release will be received. I hope open arms will greet it, as well as open minds. Seldom few arrive from seemingly nowhere, and achieve a spectral mandate which goes against the current tide. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that Dickson...
... may have just pulled it off.