The spirit behind Safer Here would probably go against the grain of belief that says we find safety in numbers, because Dawn Smithson’s safety, whatever it is, is one of serene solitude and isolation. It is this relationship, Smithson alone with the outside world’s unnerving presence, that is documented on her latest album.
The majority of songs follow a similar pattern of recourse to a distant third person, a longing anguish that flirts between desperate attempts of reconciliation to purgative expressions of newfound peace “I may not be happy now but at least I’m safer here”. The whole album bestows this transitory feel from the track titles themselves “Somewhere far”, “Nowhere Near”, “Ticking Away” etc, to the pace of the album with each song driven along by a strumming style, pared down and without any drums, which is gentle but deliberately stuttering allowing for greater focus on Smithson’s plaintive vocals. “Safer Here”, the first track of the album, sets both the tempo and the mood for the rest. The arrangement is sparse giving a fragile elegant ambience to Smithson’s vocals that at times does however render them as either maudlin or too saccharine in absence of any other musical diversions such as drums or bass.
too often we’re left feeling that a bit of humour, some good ol’ rocking out or even just a spiteful diss would make up for the lack of imagery here
And this is the trouble with this album. The sound fails to move to any concrete edge that might open us up or force us to jump. Smithson’s song structures lack real density and intricacy without going the other way towards a naked blues or amputee in a desert style of sound. Even U2 need an edge. This is not to say that Smithson’s sound is not alluring, it just leaves each song dangerously close to made for rain-soaked T.V. moments where, McBeal’s lost her car keys and she’s wishing she was pregnant. So anyway, we’re left pretty pedestrian but that wouldn’t be so bad if we had a sufficient narrative to follow. Instead we are given a series of My Little Pony couplets such as “Its safer here, nothing to fear” or “always somewhere far away I can find it if I stay” that have little emotional resonance. Given the solipsistic nature of the subject matter Smithson might be forgiven for not divulging much, safety in ambiguity, but shit too often we’re left feeling that a bit of humour, some good ol’ rocking out or even just a spiteful diss would make up for the lack of imagery here. Nevertheless, occasionally here and there we get a slight change in dynamics, the light sounds of ribbing single note on the electric guitar that lay in the back ground of “Nowhere near” hint at the prospect of experimentation and provide a little ennui. Elsewhere on “Speak Through Me” Smithson’s gentle plucking is accompanied by some light grungy chords that are not too dissimilar to something from _To Bring You my love_-era PJ Harvey whilst adding a murky shot in the wrist. But in general any divulgement from the downtrodden lost troubadour is far too tentative.
it succeeds in creating an intimacy that is close and clinging and delicate in scale
To Smithson’s credit the texture of the album, atmospherically speaking is probably exactly how she wants it to be. Recorded using a pair of Neumann mics and a large diaphragm Rode it succeeds in creating an intimacy that is close and clinging and delicate in scale. Perhaps this suggests that if the album had a real core to it we might be speaking of it in greater terms but this is not so. The whole album is kind of reflective of a half finished painting, where the painter knows that he or she doesn’t really know what he or she is painting nor how to paint it. So when walking past it ones attention is arrested for a little while before walking on and deciding that a beer would be nice. This feeling is substantiated in no better place than at the end of the album when Smithson mourns “I’ll never know what the balance is” before concluding “Trees and animals, birds, insects and flowers, how can we forsake any of them when they are apart?” My ears pricked up at this point, not because of the profundity inclusive in the double negative, but because I thought, Jesus, when did plants and animals crop up in the grand narrative of this album? So finally a twist, I guess.