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Dear Nora - Skulls Example (Album Review)

Thursday, 31 May 2018 Written by Liam Turner

Did Katy Davidson need to bring back Dear Nora?

When the project was placed on the shelf in 2008, it had just a handful of records to its name and a presence within the world of west coast DIY indie. Those who would miss it would miss it hard, but most wouldn’t blink an eye. Davidson moved on, enjoying a decade-long spell with Key Losers and Lloyd & Michael while also taking on session and producing work. So, the question remains: why bring back Dear Nora?

In the intervening years, interest in the songs only increased, partly thanks to the internet, but also due to a solid back catalogue. As a result, Davidson reissued the acclaimed ‘Mountain Rock’, a record that pitched the beatific backdrop of the American Northwest against the Bush war on terror, in 2017 – 11 years after its initial release.

The new Dear Nora LP, ‘Skulls Example’, picks up the baton. Nature remains the binding theme, but here Davidson juxtaposes the mountains, lakes, forests and hills of their Oregon home with the pervasiveness of technology.

“I’m walking on the beach, the colours are radiant – orange, blue, purple, red, yellow,” they sing on Sunset on Humanity, confronting a virtual world while wearing “slippers and PJs”.

The tracks here are lengthy by Dear Nora standards, though some feel as though they could’ve been a bit longer. New to Me, for example, seems like it’s building to a big payoff or some transcendent crescendo, but at a total runtime of 1:41 it never comes.

It’s unsurprising, then, that the record’s two longest tracks are also the best. Antidote for Mindlessness (3:44) smoulders amid soothing synths and incisive bass, while the title track (4:49) hypnotises with whispery vocals and some seriously mellow melodies. Most of Dear Nora’s music feels airy and light, but it’s when it’s given the space to breathe and the time to develop, as it is here, that it truly soars.

Taken as a whole, ‘Skulls Example’ is Dear Nora’s most cohesive, coherent and accomplished record yet. It’s one that stays close to Davidson’s earthly and musical roots, yet still manages to sound like a firm and confident progression. The project was worth reviving, after all.

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