Rob Dougan – Furious Angels (2002)

It would come as no surprise to me to find out that people have completely forgotten about Rob Dougan – The Matrix came out in 1999, fourteen years ago! It’s old enough to be featured on weekday nights on TCM. His initial and arguably most solid claim to fame came from the songs he wrote for the notorious movie’s score, and the only album he released came three years later, fundamentally different from the vibe he had been known for from The Matrix score. It was such an unusual record for him, and for the yearly “naughties”, that I get the feeling the critics were jarred (although mostly pleasantly surprised) and the public was baffled. Ever since, Rob Dougan has completely disappeared (save for a few songs he wrote for The Sugarbabes, oddly enough), leaving people like me gasping for more.

Rob Dougan

Half way between Tom Waits and Portishead, Rob Dougan’s sound is utterly distinctive and, as far as I’m concerned, unforgettable. I can’t think of one single track on this record that’s sub-par, there’s not one single moment which fails to keep up with the overall intensity – and what intensity, what teeth-gritting ferociousness infuses these songs. The album is one of the most eloquent distillations of despair I’ve ever heard, mostly mere millimeters away from melodrama, an unprecedented combination of adolescent angst and mature meditation, made complete by the dolorous contrast between the jagged, lumbering, ominous beats and the sweeping strings, the overwhelming orchestration and layering of the thing. It sounds like a masterpiece of patience and design, a sprawling scape of emotional architecture made sound, injected with urgency and anguish and breathtaking beauty. I simply can’t believe a songwriting talent like this would just completely shut off all output in such a cruel way – after announcing work on two separate albums at once, in 2006. Ever since, silence. It’d be furious if the situation weren’t so theatrically ironic somehow.

The music is formidably cinematic, it conveys a deep sense of narrative, hence my mentioning Portishead, while being wonderfully complemented by Rob Dougan’s voice, harrowed and shaking as it is. I might have been a bit shallow to mention Tom Waits in this context, based mostly on his ravaged timbre, because there’s little to no humor in these songs, unlike in most of Waits’ work, and much less metaphor, a much less poetic approach. The communication is direct, marred by a raw honesty, an un-crafted flow of emotion which makes me feel there’s something adolescent to this, some refreshing lack of constraint and social witticism, that “modern cool” which acts as a sort of defense mechanism, placing distance between the storyteller and the story. Rob Dougan doesn’t afford himself this luxury – this is music for the wounded, and it may leave one speechless if stumbled upon at the right time.

There really isn’t much more I want to say about this album. It’s one of those “desert island” disks for me, some of the best music to come out in the last decade or so. I honestly hope you get to enjoy it without the tempting emotional framework it seems to summon so easily. After endless plays, after a myriad moments bringing closure for various wounds, I feel I’m finally over that once-impassable barrage which didn’t allow me to write about Furious Angels until now. There is no detachment to be found when faced with this music… at this point, I think it would be disrespectful to pretend otherwise. In any case, enjoy!

Alice in Chains – Sap EP (1992)

Today marks the passing of a decade since Layne Staley… moved on, shall we say. Or “broke free” might be another way of putting it, since his constant struggle with drug addiction might very well be regarded as imprisonment. In any case, I don’t feel this is a sad day, or at least I don’t see it as anything but a day to celebrate the great music that Layne graced us with. And what better way to celebrate it than to recommend the Sap EP, released on the 21st of March 1992.

I like these sort of axis kind of things. 1992 produced two of Alice in Chains’ greatest records – this acoustic, tonic, bright little five-track record, and the formidable Dirt album, about which I wrote a while ago. It’s nice to listen to this folk-ish, relaxed, earthy music, denoting so much joy, such a smooth feeling of ease and simplicity, as it puts things into perspective – it took a mere ten years for things to become so irreparable for Layne that he simply couldn’t survive any longer. But this record offers only a slight hint of that path, a subtle suggestion of darkness in an otherwise open, crystal clear emotional/musical gem.

As the story goes, Alice in Chains’ drummer, Sean Kinney had a dream about releasing an EP titled Sap, so the band decided to do just that, in the off chance it was, you know, destiny knocking. The band were joined by Ann Wilson, singer for the band Heart, bringing a very welcome female voice addition to the laid-back sound the EP was going for. Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and Mudhoney’s own Mark Arm collaborated on the Right Turn song, which ended up being credited Alice Mudgarden because of this – a typical display of the form of humor floating around the grunge scene at the time. And just to drive the pairing of sarcasm and absurdity home, the officially four-track EP has an unlisted track, which is little more than the band goofing off in the studio in a Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque breakdown involving a Spaghetti Western-sounding piano and a lot of funny noises. Perhaps this is why I feel there’s such an air of childlike glee surrounding this EP…

In any case, I think this record works very well as a mood setter for an early spring evening, and as a soundtrack for celebrating Layne Staley’s unique, unforgettable voice. I leave you with all the tracks on Sap, as a special treat. See you soon!