“The Obvious I would sound unutterably pretty even as an instrumental album. But once you factor in a voice whose purity has elicited comparisons to Robert Wyatt, Mark Hollis and Dean Wareham, the effect is something akin to hearing a ghost transmitting from a machine of its own making.”
– Pete Paphides
‘The Obvious I’, the second album from Ed Dowie, is the second new master release from Needle Mythology, the label founded by music writer, author and broadcaster Pete Paphides.
In 2017, Ed released his feted debut album ‘The Uncle Sold’, leading The Quietus to hail him as a “bold and starry-eyed visionary” and The Skinny to praise his “beautiful… stolen snapshots of glimpsed futures and lost pasts” and BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction made the record one of their albums of the year. Now, four years on, Ed is to return with an album that will surely find him new followers alongside longtime fans such as Lauren Laverne, who described its predecessor as an “absolutely extraordinary” achievement.
The Obvious I marks a pronounced evolution from Dowie’s earlier music. Adhering to Kraftwerk’s maxim about achieving the maximum emotional impact by the most minimal means.
The first track taken from the album Robot Joy Army is a synergy of clockwork beats and somnambulant harmonies, which brings the album to a mesmerising conclusion. Somehow it’s a song as apposite to cold war Russia as it is to basement dwellers in overpopulated South Korean conurbations and shift workers at Amazon Fulfilment Centres.
Of Under The Waves Ed says “This song was written in one sitting on the day that Trump came to London. I was on my way into my studio and the mammoth helicopters were circling overhead making the most incredibly loud noise, so I recorded it on my phone. It very rarely happens this way, but I got into the studio and just recorded the whole thing in a few hours. I tried rerecording aspects of it, especially the vocals – you can hear someone playing drums loudly next door – but it never sounded as real or as raw as they do on this version, so I just kept it all in, getting off the piano stool and all”.
The Obvious I is a record that would see Dowie drawing on musical lessons learned throughout his life: from his childhood as a chorister in Dorset, taught to play piano by his father who himself composes choral classical 20th Century Music, to pivotal friendships made following the dissolution of his first group Brothers In Sound, when Dowie enrolled to study Music, Technology And Innovation at De Montford University in Leicester. The first module studied by Dowie during his time in Leicester introduced him to the work of minimalist composers such as Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros and La Monte Young.
“It helped break down the barriers between what pop is and what all this other stuff is. I love the way sometimes little pockets of beautiful melodies sneak into the world of experimental music – Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, the songs of Cornelius Cardew, the beauty and emotion in something like Terry Riley’s In C, and obviously the way the work of minimalists Philip Glassand Steve Reich seem to stray into quite sentimental areas.”
The Obvious I was co-produced by pioneering British experimental musician and sometime member of Polar Bear “Leafcutter John” Burton.
“John’s become something of a hero of mine over the years. Way back when he was in Polar Bear, I approached him after a couple of gigs, and he’d remembered me from those days. And really, his presence on the record was invaluable. He lent me equipment and gave me advice, then when I finished recording, I sent him the stems and he mixed the album.”
What ultimately emerged from these efforts – and what reveals itself with successive plays – is a beguiling process of alchemy. Each song from The Obvious I is the culmination of a beautiful process of distillation. A crystal extracted from chaos. Tumult distilled into lullaby.
“My biggest battle,” says Ed Dowie, “was to ask myself how I can make something that reflects the turbulence of this period without adding to it.”
By that metric, and several more, The Obvious I is no small triumph.