Finding himself stuck in Japan during lockdown, communicating with friends, family and fans back home via digital media sparked in Dan the realisation that we are, as the album title says, now living in a glass age, one in which screens have come to play a major role in the way we exist as communities and how, stripped of physical manifestations of feelings, we have adopted more direct proclamations of emotions. In addition, he started to further explore the use of electronics in his music working with Swedish producer Gustaf Ljunggren, a collaboration that began with the latter’s remix of ‘Tomorrow’ in 2020 and led to Dan’s increasing use of delicate synth-based arrangements.
The result is his sixth album (the lyric book of which features both English and Japanese), a seven track meditation on the way human experience and connecting has changed through the medium of virtual communication.
It begins with the electronic static pulses intro to ‘Campfire’, a gently pulsating, warmly sung number that essentially lays out the underlying concept in its opening line “When you change the way you look at things/ Watch the things you look at start to change/Through the flame of this gentle blaze/Everything is re-arranged”, adopting the metaphor of gathering around the campfire and humming as the embers crackle as a coming together in love and peace. Here as on several songs, while not Haiku, the minimalism of the lyrics definitely shows the influence of Japanese poetry and the way it condenses meaning into short phrases. And Cohen’s likely in there too.
The title track follows, with its percussive clicks and undulating synth rhythm over which his soft, angelic voice soars as he sings the chorus “Welcome to the glass age/This screen is here to stay”, the lyrics veering from the enigmatic (“She planted seeds within me, tended to them delicately/As I lay in my chamber, dancing with my health”) to the more directly romantic (“I am pilot, passing my torch on, my gift to you is something true/I won’t fade out, even if you feel afraid”). Listening to it I was put in mind of Ultravox, an echo that also sounds through ‘The Tide’ on which he speaks of the fluid nature of virtual life (“dive in to the future/Where every breath we share/The tide within reminds me I’m water”) and again the ability to be everpresent (“When I close the curtain could be anywhere, my screen’s a chimney to the world”), yet the tone shifts in the last verse where “The flower got broken in two discoloured, wilted in the heat …Now it cries out for water/Its petals ripped and torn/Oh what have you done?/So many shades of green described by her daughter fear doesn’t shift as we slide to the slaughter” where climate change emerges as a theme.
Natural imagery is there too on the rippling, jittery percussive ‘Thin Blue Line’ with its references to ice and hints of Bowie, set in the context of Antarctica (“this bleak yet pristine land at the edge of the earth”) where the narrator, facing a void and not seeing the warning signs, is “left exchanging sealskins with locals to make it through the day”, the poetic sensibility again surfacing in lines like “We’re merely two oak beams, drifting towards the sea”.
Melancholia suffuses the darkly beautiful, pulsing ‘Remind Me’ (“the sorrow, like a fountain/ Builds within me, no one’s counting/As it breaks me into pieces… I felt it briefly. Happiness, subtle warmth, passed through the hairs on my neck”), a song, guessingly, about letting down barriers and also learning to love yourself. A very personal note is struck on ‘Rainbows Never End’, a valedictory co-write with Patricia Morris, about his unconditional paternal love for and connection with his son, who now lives in Japan on which the synths take on the warm of Northern brass, the album ending on an organic musical note with guitars, keys and bass, Beth Aggett (who co-wrote it with Dan, Tom Milner, Mimi Jasson and Alex Lowe) at a Chris Difford songwriting workshop) on backing vocals, for ‘New Love’, a catchy calypso-flavoured number overflowing with optimism and an earworm chorus hook that should send a luminous glow through Radio 2.
Later in the year, Dan has another glass age album, this one a commission documenting the history of glassmaking in Stourbridge, in the meanwhile this is most assuredly a screen saver.
Artist’s website: www.dan-whitehouse.com
‘The Tide’ – in the studio: