Long Read: Richard Dawson sings us of a bittersweet 2020. Observational indie folk for an anxious generation.

Here’s a record that will only sound moderately light and comfortable to those who don’t understand English, even though Richard Dawson’s vivid descriptions of modern life’s cruelty and senselessness can be quite funny at times.

A teacher of mine once told me that personal letters take us as close to History as we can possibly be, not books or whatever else. Dawson’s latest album may not be a letter to dear one, but surely, decades from now, will be regarded as a sharp depiction of most of the issues and idiosyncrasies of today.

In the last few years England has been prolific in birthing records that address some of the most urgent issues in the right way. Some, such as Idles’ Joy as an Act of Resistance, are openly politic, addressing issues such as xenophobia, genre stereotypes, Brexit and the media, but, most importantly, doing it while calling for unity and for people to keep their joy of living and positivity, despite the dire Brave New Worldish scenario we’re all engulfed in. Richard Dawson‘s 2020, while substantially different from the Bristol collective’s sophomore album in many ways, seems to be coming from a somehow similar psychological landscape, that I’m sure many of us can relate to.

Even though there are moments of very well-crafted lyrical proficiency here, Dawson’s observational skills are closer to those of a very aware retired journalist than a wandering younger Tom Waits, documenting a routine that must not be alien to most of us and revealing many of the things that are not-so-slowly taking over what’s left of our mundane lives, while nostalgically remembering some lost simple moments. His creativity seems to be never-ending, as he manages to fuse medieval folk song elements with loud indie rock and even some quasi-psychedelic notes reminiscent of his amazing band Hen Ogledd.

Between post-work dumb jokes at Wetherspoons, austerity measures that lead a civil servant on the brink of a breakdown to call people and tell them their financial support is being cut, xenophobic butchers, vape shops and a son disappointing his father because of a poorly defended corner in a football match, one of my favorite moments on this album takes place in the song “Heart Emoji”. This is a story, possibly the simplest on the album, that, were it all a gross misunderstanding in the end, could remind us of how much technology is fucking up human relationships and making us all paranoid. As a toothache dooms our protagonist to a sleepless night, a glowing light draws this person’s attention to his/her snoring partner’s phone sitting on the bedside table where, in the middle of the night, a suspicious message now lays accompanied by a heart emoji.

In a time where goddamned artificial intelligent and straight evil corporation — hello, Amazon — threat to erase any reminiscence of humanity in our already death-end jobs, dumbing us down to ever more repetitive, sedentary and meaningless functions, 2020 is a record that must be heard around the world, if not for what it has to say, at least for Dawson’s supreme, daring and yet humble craftmanship when it comes to writing a damn great tune.

2020 is out now on Weird World/Domino Recordings. // Words: Ricardo Almeida
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