Album | Dot Allison – Heart-Shaped Scars

Dot Allison will always be identified with the band that initially launched her career, One Dove, whose Andy Weatherall-produced album Morning Dove White became a downbeat electronic classic. Other collaborations include Kevin Shields, Hal David, Paul Weller, Pete Doherty and Darren Emerson, Massive Attack, Scott Walker, Slam, Philip Shepard, The Babyshambles and Pete Doherty. 

Her own subsequent albums amount to a significant body of work charting the topography of her world in song. From Afterglow, with its broad-church psychedelic trip-hop and Tim Buckley-esque ballads, to the moody down-beat synth-pop of We Are Science, the baroque edifice of Larks and the roots drama of Room 7½ .

Heart-Shaped Scars gathers together many elements of Dot Allison’s magpie eye, not just musical but literary, philosophical, scientific and natural. This is deliciously sparse and intoxicating folk music, the stuff of the sweetest dreams. The vocals are divine and ethereal, the album is visceral and is pervaded by a fragile vulnerable humanity. These are songs of love, loss and connection.

Produced by Dot with Fiona Cruickshank at Air studios, the album is sonically rich and musically elegant. Hannah Peel adds her emotive, exquisite string arrangements to four songs, conducting a string quintet made up of Scottish folk musicians. 

‘Long Exposure’ is a delight – sophisticated elegant song-writing framed in a lush modern folk arrangement made perfect by the delightful strings, lush harmonies and the shifting major/minor modalities. 

There are two lovely duets on the album. The first comes courtesy of Amy Bowman on ‘The Haunted’ with its sinister shivering violin intro, harmonics on the flute, descending plangent piano notes, sinister low strings and deep bass tones, setting a down-beat mood music for a séance, trance and lovers separated by death.

The second duet is with Zoë Bestel on the Nick Drake-esque  ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’ – a lament and celebration of mother nature’s brave fight for survival on a hostile planet sung through tears. The natural world does feature prominently throughout the album courtesy of the field recordings of birdsong, rivers and the sea. 

The close miked approach to recording the instruments and vocals gives an immediacy and presence to the proceedings. We can hear the sounds of the instruments playing and the sounds that humans make playing them. I for one love this honest approach to recording.

‘Constellation’ has an epic feel. The dissonant almost atonal picked out piano melody is an ingenious hook.  It is like something from the ascending escalator scene from Michael Powell’s film A Matter of Life and Death, forming a perfect foil for the lush ascending vocal lines and pop production.

There’s an unworldly feel to this album, resonances of the Wicker Man and Midsommer abound. We are in a newly discovered paradise, a place full of wonder and magic. This is moving song writing with great arrangements.

Heart-Shaped Scars is a perfect antidote to the stress of pandemic life, a beautiful, restorative and inspiring balm for these troubling times. It is sublime.