THE INHERENT PROBLEM of music that’s designed to be atmospheric and immersive is that the artist is asking the listener to suspend belief, to ignore the materiality of sounds, structure, songs and performance.
That’s easy when you’re watching a Hollywood epic, no matter how superficial the subject matter, because they’ve got budget and SFX to hit you over the head until you’re gratefully concussed. But at the shoe-gaze end of alt-rock, the audience has to will themselves into thrall to the artist’s muse.
Some musicians/songwriters with an eye for theatre are effortlessly convincing, and you never have to bend to their will to enjoy what they do. Leonard Cohen is a great example, and partly, it’s because Leonard is Leonard is Leonard: a wry old dude with some great lines and little pretention. But the area in which Claire Duncan (the sole member of Dear Times Waste) operates requires belief. It’s obvious from the first note that she adores the early records of the Cocteau Twins (from when they were still a bit dark and gothic) and The Cure, and both those groups had as many detractors as they did believers. It’s because some found their theatre of misery believable; others just found it morbid.
On her second album, Duncan comes so close to convincingly creating the kind of amniotic atmospheres you could easily sink into and spend some time swimming around in that it’s downright frustrating that ultimately, she fails to do so. Some Kind Of Eden is one of those albums that veers from sublimity to calamity with a flick of the wrist, and unfortunately in this genre you don’t get applause for being half good.
Her background of mostly crisp, chattering and clicking electronics, borrowed from the glitch school of late ‘90s minimal techno, is filled out with the expected additions of echoing guitar and Joy Division basslines, and every now and then, a stuttering drum machine (probably virtual) to replicate that technologically-challenged early ‘80s Cocteau Twins vibe. But she’s got no Robin Guthrie to hand to weave magical tapestries of flanged guitar or add that special ingredient to the production; nor is she the golden-voiced Liz Fraser of her generation.
There’s a sense that working alone has been her undoing, and it’s most obvious in the way she sings her lyrics. Too often, she makes too little of any inherent opportunities for tunefulness, and fixes on repeating certain lyric lines as though they were of great significance – what we get is faux poetry in search of a song, a voice that’s vaguely aiming at a kind of theatricality from the school of torch singing, but ends up just being histrionic, overstated and revealing of her limitations.
With Some Kind Of Eden, Dear Time’s Waste has aimed for something grand, but more often than not, it just doesn’t quite come off. It’s the curse of the nascent artist in 2012 that it’s too easy to get an album to fruition before the necessary artistry is fully-grown and ready for public consumption and comes across as something believable.
There are moments here, moments to cherish and moments in which to lose oneself in Duncan’s world, and that’s why I’ve bothered listening and critiquing it. It’s far from hapless or hopeless and she does sing beautifully on some of the tunes, and occasionally there are tunes to sing, and every now and then, she turns in a line that’s worth hearing more than once. That’s really something.
But she’s not ready yet, not by quite a stretch. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3/5
Music = 2.5/5