Douglas Dare’s ‘Milkteeth’ Is Primal Pop About the Pain and Puzzlement of Growing Up ‘Other’
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The maximal pop classicist Douglas Dare delivers an about-face on his stripped-down third release Milkteeth. Reflective of its title — the fully formed primary teeth below a newborn’s gumline awaiting development within the first two years of life — the Englishman looks back at his own progression as a gender-expressive gay man and those fundamental struggles and joys that have shaped his journey.
His debut Whelm and its follow-up Aforger were shot through with intricate piano melodies and dark-hued instrumental arrangements. They were fantastical, borderline Gothic opi — sometimes wrenching (“Oh Father”); sometimes staggeringly beautiful (“Clockwork”). Because the lyrics of Milkteeth are primal, processing his sense of isolation and outsider-ism as a child, he approaches the music with, well, kid gloves. He allows the pain and puzzlement of growing up “other” to take center stage without censor.
Dare learned the autoharp, no doubt inspired by his love of PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell, and its delicate strumming informs much here. Yet don’t mistake this softness for weakness. Think of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band or Perfume Genius’s Learning, works that confronted the damage of childhood and the furious struggle to survive, at first functionally, and then commandingly.
Dare begins with triumph here on the plainspoken “I Am Free.” Amongst a piano melody as rich as prime Rufus Wainwright, the songwriter rejects narrow-minded opposition with the inspirational chant: “I am free and I can feel love; I am free.” How he got there follows in the remaining tracks. His journey is full of warmth (a mother’s protection in the deceptive “Red Arrows”), confusion (the medieval “Heavenly Bodies”), loneliness (“Wherever You Are”), and liberation (“Run”).
And he transforms through love, with love, in the striking “The Joy in Sarah’s Eyes,” about a sister, a friend, a reflection of his own identity. It’s open to interpretation, though the record itself is a summation of Dare’s graceful confidence as an artist. “Only now do I feel free to express my inner child again,” he has said, “and am giving myself permission to play dress up.” Whatever the form of expression, it looks good on him.