Richard Dawson’s follow up to 2014’s experimental-folk masterpiece ‘Nothing important’ comes in the form of ‘Peasant’, a muddy and twisted look into a beautifully constructed Anglo-Saxon England in the form of left-field musicianship and grand storytelling. Each track holds thematic content of a nightmarish and uninviting world that Dawson superbly conveys, using imagery of ‘great evil’ to an unsettling but almost welcoming effect. The tracks monumental stories reel you in whilst at the same time have an unwelcoming undercurrent, leaving the listener in an uncomfortable position that is only heightened by the bizarre instrumentation that is scattered throughout. Screeching horn fanfares and dynamic and sudden crescendos of percussion hits surprise and shock the listener at every unexpected corner, each cleverly arranged to fit into the disturbing themes Dawson’s lyrics portray. The production is both visceral and immersive, gentle instrumentation transfers between jarring bursts of percussion and horns almost effortlessly, creating a thick texture of confusion that is brilliantly pulled off.
The narrative of ‘Peasant’s’ eleven conceptive tracks take place in an Anglo-Saxon rural kingdom. Whilst a medieval concept album rings bells of fantasy and adventure, ‘Peasant’ in fact holds a murky and dark under current that is not found in the likes of a typical ‘medieval’ album. Dark and twisted stories are presented in the form of Dawson narrating different experiences in this densely filled world. Dawson himself even described eighth track ‘Hob’ as a ‘dank and dreary song’, and listening to the wretched lyrics detailing ‘flies for a crown’ and ‘greasy stones’ he is certainly not wrong in saying so.
Kicking the record off with abrasive horn melodies that clash and interweave in and amongst one another, the haunting introductory track to the record ‘Herald’ serves as a means of effectively introducing us to the medieval and folk story concepts found in ‘Peasant’. The irregular tempo markings and atonal melodies act to portray a sense of suspense and anticipation for the follow up tracks to come. ‘Peasant’ was ultimately released off the back of lead track ‘Ogre’, a genius and well put together track built around evangelical howled vocal melodies and harsh but inviting guitar hits that are executed precisely due to his highly skilled musicianship and guitar playing. Ending the track on a mesh of dissonant string swells, the track is a beautifully wrapped up look inside the painful half-aggression that Dawson is presenting to us throughout the course of the elven tracks. A half-aggression that is almost mournful, ‘I am tired, I am afraid’ he states on track ‘Solider’. ‘My heart is full of dread’. These moments of tenderness offer a more accessible look into the heart of Dawson as a character, something that may have been less directly accessible and heart-felt in his previous works.
In the deeply moving track ‘prostitute’, Dawson presents a story of the titular character pondering her existence and dreams of a better life for her children. Moving scenes of the character wondering if ‘there is more than this’ reflects a sense of heart-warming compassion, a breakthrough for Dawson as an artist. His apocalyptic story-telling and plucked guitar style means that he is at his heart a folk artist, no matter what negative connotations he believes that word holds. Stating in a recent interview with The Quietus, Dawson explains he is ‘anything but a folk musician’. His weird and abstract story-telling coinciding with hard to listen to melodies however potentially gives Dawson a status more favourable than a simple ‘folk musician’ does. Nothing traditional or straight to the point is found on his jarring works. Take fourth track ‘Weaver’ as an example, with aggressive plucking of guitar strings being used to heighten an uncomfortable listen.
Much like Dawson’s prior works, ‘Peasant’ holds the abrasive and atonal proggy chord progressions alongside his unique vocal delivery found in works such as ‘Nothing important’ and his major domino records label debut ‘The magic bridge’. What is initially notable in Peasant however, the shift in story telling that paces throughout the record is more fluid and coherent than his previous albums. A more beautiful and easy to listen to record that draws you into a masterly crafted old age England world.