Former Thee Oh Sees keyboardist and singer Brigid Dawson steps out from her perennial role of nifty team player to fashion one of 2020’s majestic, smouldering and shape-shifting releases.
Back in 2017, Brigid Dawson cooked up three lovely tunes of melodic wonder to Memory Of A Cut Off Head, the Forever Changes-inspired album she concocted as OCS with John Dwyer. However, most of her career has been spent adding colour and shade as a keyboardist, percussionist and counterpoint harmony vocalist to work that could be best described as grinding, visceral alt-rock. With this in mind, then, her divine, lush and airy Ballet of Apes is a startling, enveloping left turn of a debut whose florid charms sound pristine, fully-formed and stratospheric, residing in a captivating slipstream between folk, jazz, torch song and baroque psychedelia.
Dawson’s support cast consists of an inner circle plucked from far and wide, from Melbourne to San Francisco and New York, accommodating the likes of Mikey Young, Mike Donovan, Shayde Sartin, NY sludge-jazz combo Sunwatchers and Mike Shoun. Each of her ragtag backing musicians provide spirited interplay and a sympathetic spine, most notably in the record’s spellbinding latter half, where Dawson’s contralto lilt spins pastoral prettiness amidst dreamy, cosmically inclined wispiness and trippy jazz ruckus.
The synth-embedded opener, Is The Season For New Incarnations, sets out “a new vision” and “furious joy”, with the singer’s Bobbie Gentry or Evie Sands-like warbling and cooing walking a tight rope between dread and awe over a Velvet Underground-styled rattle. The gorgeously rendered and languid lullaby that is Carletta’s In Hats Again induces shivers with its sleek and eerie sparseness and sleepy psych-minimalism, proffering an uncanny, acid-folk doorway between Beach House and Linda Perhacs.
Elsewhere, Heartbreak Jazz dresses a bluesy lament with a tumbling swirl of free-jazz dissonance, like some fevered mashup of Cat Power, Broadcast and David Axelrod, whilst the title track serves up a deep-dive into astral-future-pastoral thanks to its doleful soundscape of vintage synth, spiralling guitar and greasy sax freak-outs.
Ballet of Apes conjures delight through spinning dreams from indefinable yearnings, dialling up the darkness whilst showering the listener in light; it’s a trick that works wonders here.