English folkie Richard Dawson is onto his sixth album and pushing forty, but he’s certainly not a household name. Instead, he’s beloved by music critics but too much of an acquired taste for most. His folkish guitar playing is rough and electric, while, inspired by Mike Patton, he throws his voice around wildly. Dawson’s music is also reminiscent of American blues weirdo Captain Beefheart, or even the charming and meandering songs of Robert Wyatt. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, he plays almost all of the instruments on 2020, but the focus is on his propulsive and raw guitar playing.
Dawson’s previous record, Peasant, focused on medieval life. 2020 is clearly focused on modern life in Britain. The album opens with the prosaic lines “Open your eyes, time to wake up/Shit, shower, brush your teeth, drain your cup” from ‘Civil Servant’. Dawson’s songs on 2020 are often focused on lengthy narrative; the UFO sighting of ‘Black Triangle’ is eight minutes long, while ‘Fulfillment Centre’ runs longer than ten minutes.
‘Jogging’ is built around a pounding rock riff and sweetens his sound with synths, giving Dawson’s music more universal appeal than usual. ‘Black Triangle’ is also built around a dark and heavy riff, perhaps not surprising for someone who spent hours watching Iron Maiden videos as a teenager.
2020 is more accessible than Dawson’s previous work, with his partner educating him towards pop music. But it’s still very much outsider music; ‘Two Halves’ tells the story of a child playing football, harangued from the sidelines.
The focus on lengthy story-telling can limit the replay value of 2020, but it’s still an accomplished record, with its rough-hewn and anxious stories of modern life.