A cry from the dark.
There is a certain bleakness to the solo albums of Gabriel Douglas but as the title suggests, his latest, ‘Darker Still’ plunges into deeper gloom. Douglas is best known as part of the hard-rocking indie band 4onthefloor where each member has his own bass drum. To his solo work echoes to his raw vocals but the only instrumentation on ‘Darker Still’ is acoustic guitar and a keyboard. Released on 21st December, the darkest day of the year, the vibe is chilling to the bone and perfect for lockdown.
A gentle acoustic strum introduces a deep voice that talks so directly to the listener that it feels confessional, “Hearts want/ (What) hearts want/ I know it/ (I’ve blown it)” As if the effort is too much Douglas admits almost groggily it’s just, “Hard to explain to the brain(to the brain”. This is the cry of someone in trouble.
This man may be down but he is not out. “Get Up, Fed Up, Yup” has Douglas growling defiantly, “Ah ha you may have finally had enough/But ya gotta get up”. In a way it describes the album’s darkest hour is before the dawn feel.
The sparseness of sound is reflected in the lyrics. Douglas does not waste a single word. “How To Make A Home (Somebody to Call)” is a staccato series of notes but that only amplifies the message of trying to settle down with somebody. That urge for better times returns with “Morning’s Coming”. At a faster tempo Douglas’s use of repetition intensifies his ghostliness.
That is not to say Douglas lacks melody. ‘Holding Patterns’ has a lighter tuneful hook to soften his mournful lament of hanging on too long. By the end he sounds plain resigned. The gentle reverb on ‘Ain’t Gonna Fight (You Are Enough)’ recalls Douglas’s other job as an indie rocker.
If Douglas does feel ‘Darker Still’ represents those empty bleak hours before the sun rises he does not go on to explore a potentially brighter prospect. Instead, he reflects on where he is now, without self-pity, holding up a critical mirror to reveal his soul. For that it is a very satisfying listen.