Consciousology finds multi-instrumentalist Dot joined by the London Contemporary Orchestra, her new labelmate Andy Bell from Ride, who plays guitar on two tracks, and Hannah Peel, who is responsible for some of the string arrangements with both the LCO and a stellar group of Scottish string players. It expands on the styles and themes of the previous album, all while pushing everything just that little bit further – the songs sound bigger, more avant-garde and experimental and, occasionally, properly out-there and psychedelic.
“I wanted to make some albums that felt like a set, exploring love, what lies beyond the visible and how all these aspects dovetail together,” explains Dot. “I see Consciousology a more psych Heart-Shaped Scars with a far fuller, more immersive sound and so, in that sense, it’s a more wayward, bolder, rule-breaking partner.”
Right from the eye-catching artwork by PJ Harvey collaborator Maria Mochnacz it definitely does not play it safe. It veers from the techno-played-as-folk of opener ‘Shyness Of Crowns’ and ‘220Hz’ and the Linda Perhacs-meets-The Velvet Underground chug of the first single ‘Unchanged’ to the Mercury Rev-style fantasia of ‘Bleached By The Sun’, the Brian Wilson-esque harmonies of ‘Moon Flowers’ and the kaleidoscopic colour trip of ‘Double Rainbow’. Elsewhere there are echoes of Desertshore-era Nico, Jack Nitzsche’s work with Neil Young, Karen Dalton and Anne Briggs before the relative simplicity of the Tim Hardin-inspired closer ‘Weeping Roses’. It’s a brilliant, breathtaking record.
The title, which brings to mind Maureen Lipman’s classic 1980s BT adverts (“you get an ’ology, you’re a scientist!”) might feel playful and light-hearted at first, but has a much deeper meaning, and one which makes sense of the album’s dedication to its biggest influences: Dot’s musician mother and botanist father.
“For me, it is an imagined voice of a conscious universe expressed through music,” explains Dot of the over-arching concept. “It’s a plea, an embrace, a longing, a last gasp, perhaps… imbued through the music, voice, harmony and a harmonic composition, with the lyrics taking an interest in the differing levels of consciousness apparent in all self-organising, natural systems.
“It takes a less mechanistic, inanimate but more infinitely complex view of the nature of reality and how feelings of love and loss – and consciousness itself – are potentially less ‘molecular’ in nature and more electromagnetic.”
The choice of instrumentation reflects this: there is a Theremin on two songs (played by Dorit Chrysler) because it works by generating electromagnetic fields around two antennae. “It uses fields that are beyond the reach of our senses, that lie outwith the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum,” says Dot. “To me, conceptually, this completely works with the ideas behind the album.”
For ‘Double Rainbow’, she went one further and actually recorded the electrical activity in a plant which was then translated into pitch variations.
“So, in effect, it has a guest performance from a botanical session player,” she laughs. “I placed a Brachyglottis Sunshine on top of the Steinway grand piano at the studio and recorded its ‘voice’ through a Neumann U67. It was pretty endearing and really moving to hear this translated into a melody.”
‘Double Rainbow’ was actually the starting point for the album; written at the same time as the songs on Heart-Shaped Scars, Dot felt it belonged somewhere else, and here it beds in perfectly alongside the similarly horticulturally inclined ‘Shyness Of Crowns’ (“the title relates to the behaviour of trees and how they socially distance at the crown of the woods”), ‘220Hz’ (“the frequency at which tree roots communicate beneath the ground in the ‘wood wide web’”) and ‘Mother Tree’ (inspired by Canadian scientist Suzanne Simard’s writings on the trees which act as central hubs for vast below-ground mycorrhizal networks.)
Expanding on the theme, ‘Moon Flowers’ is about recognising “our synergistic place in the complex network of all life and to respect the living quantum systems we seem intent on continually interrupting”, while ‘Bleached By The Sun’ includes the lyric “in our roots there is soul, an innate empathy”. “It’s an appeal that can be construed as a love song,” says Dot, “but in my mind was what nature might say should nature be able to be heard.”
‘Unchanged’ is a love song, albeit one about “being in a process with someone where you love, lose and grieve the love-bond alone, while the other person appears to remain unchanged throughout”. It’s powerful and driving, the opposite of the closing track, ‘Weeping Roses’. Inspired by a tape gifted to Dot in the ’90s by the late Andrew Weatherall which included two songs by Tim Hardin (‘How Can We Hang On To A Dream’ and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’), it ends this majestic and mind-expanding album on a perfect note of intimate simplicity.
1. Shyness Of Crowns
3. Bleached By The Sun
4. Moon Flowers
6. Double Rainbow
7. Milk And Honey
8. Mother Tree
9. Weeping Roses