Now that Adele has made her comeback, the remarkable autumn 2021 succession of blockbuster albums seems to be at an end, which leaves welcome room for the stranger stuff to make itself heard. I thought a 14-year-old girl singing Nick Cave songs with The Flaming Lips was the definitive candidate for weirdest album concept of this week, until I heard that Newcastle folk musician Richard Dawson had teamed up with veteran spandex-clad Finnish metal band Circle for a collection of songs about plants.
Dawson is a long-term fan of the prolific, eclectic Finns, and first joined them onstage at a Helsinki festival gig in 2019. He gave rocking out a go on his last album, titled 2020, and both acts trade in long songs that take unexpected turns. Silphium on this release is over 12 minutes long, named after an extinct plant used as a contraceptive in classical antiquity, and begins as a chugging Krautrock song before settling into a mix of winding guitar lines and creepy whispering, before reconvening for a vibrant, piano-led climax.
The big difference is the vocals. Mika Rättö has tended to sing in the fictional language of the kingdom of Meronia, whereas Dawson uses tiny details to make surprising poetry from the everyday slog. The dense fug of Lily sees him singing of ghosts witnessed while “working as a junior nurse in the early Eighties at the Royal Victoria Infirmary,” and finds room for a fruity, Darkness-style falsetto. He plays snooker with Steve Davis in the video – a twist that makes perfect sense in this bizarrely entertaining new sound world.