Beautiful Broken is the first new album by Andrew Dobson, AKA Digitonal, since 2008’s Light for Darker Days. In those seven years Dobson has been a busy boy. He released, not really a best of, but more of a this-is-me-now compilation Be Still My Beating Heart on Just Music, his musical home since 2008. Rumour has it that he has scrapped an entire album’s worth of music, because it didn’t feel right. But like with all of Digitonal’s outputs, the wait was worth it. Beautiful Broken is his most complete, and accomplished album.
“The length of time that Beautiful Broken has taken has been its saving grace,” Dobson said recently “I don’t feel any pressure to align myself to the zeitgeist anymore and that’s very liberating. I have made mistakes in the past where I would contrive certain things to fit in with a certain scene, but I feel happy with the new album, because it’s me through and through.” This new found freedom comes across in the music. Beautiful Broken sounds like a man who has fallen back in love not only with music, but with music making.
This being said there are subtle difference between Beautiful Broken and Light for Darker Days. First of all opening track ‘Proverb’ contains lyrics. While this doesn’t seem like a massive difference, it does add an extra texture that, in the past, Digitonal have been missing. ‘We Three’ is classic Digitonal. It opens with a keyboard riff, that slowly fades into the background, while what appear to be a xylophone carries on the same pattern while swaths of synths envelope you. After a few minutes a chopped up piano interplay’s with glitchy beats. When the trademark strings kick in ‘We Three’ really comes into its own.
‘Beltane’ is one of the standout tracks. The hard manipulated plucked strings are juxtaposed with a lyrical and playful piano. ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ is a darker, more electro driven piece. The driving bass and beats make it sound like an outtake from a John Carpenter film. ‘Luna’ is another classic Digitonal sounding track. It’s reminiscent to ‘Silver Poetry’, from their debut. Stark strings mingle with melancholic piano. The album closes with ‘Eighteen’. Loosely based on Steve Reich’s ground breaking Music for Eighteen Musicians, the song goes I cycles and phrases until it comes to its logical conclusion. Reich’s influence isn’t just on Eighteen, it’s shadow hangs over the whole album like a shadow.
The only downside is that there isn’t that one hard hitting glitched-out monster, like ‘Black Box’ from their 2002 debut 23 Things Fall Apart. Black Box helped tie the album together, yet it put everything before and after into context. That being said, Beautiful Broken is an album that craves to be played. It demands you to listen to its intricate patterns and to break its code. And why not? Given the current musical climate, and Dobson throwing off the pressure of trying to fit in with conventional styles, it’s a very brave album. Let’s hope the next one doesn’t take so long.
Beautiful Broken was released on 4th May 2015 through Just Music