Dan Owen – Stay Awake With Me
Folk | Indie Pop
I’m suddenly reminded of a famous quote by the legendary John Peel: “Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, ‘Listen mate, life has surface noise“. That same principle applies to the music itself. Often what makes music special is the imperfections, the little hints of humanity when artists leave a piece of themselves in their work. Sadly there’s been a trend lately of artists I love straying from that idea with their debut albums; first Isaac Gracie, and now Dan Owen. I’ve seen Dan live many times, and he always puts on one hell of a show, but this record does not play to his strengths, and in many places seems to push him down a different path entirely.
Live, his powerful gritty vocals are enough to make everyone in earshot drop what they are doing and pay attention. His manic foot-stomping blues numbers are like barely restrained chaos, and the feeling that it’s all so close to collapse is what makes them so exciting.
There’s none of that here, favouring instead the softer numbers. That in itself isn’t the main issue though. All the grit, all the rural charm, all the humanity has been covered up with a veneer of polished indie pop. ‘Splinter’, whose EP version even felt like it was missing something, has been reworked and dolled up with even more unnecessary distractions. It’s the same story with ‘Icarus’, all the passion I felt in his voice when I first heard the song is missing. There’s barely any hints of harmonica, and a few paint by numbers piano ballads that feel like they were made by someone else entirely. With the exception of the dark menace of ‘Hideaway’, Dan seems to take the backseat on his own album, hidden away beneath heavy-handed production. I know he can make a killer record, but all this needless pop sheen is holding him back.