Album Review: Thomas Dybdahl — The Great Plains

To feel totally immersed in the soul of an album is something that I seldom experience of late. However, in Thomas Dybdahl’s latest record, ‘The Great Plains’, I find my soul submerged in a sonic ocean, caressed by waves from an ethereal plane of reality hitherto uncharted. It may sound pretentious, but bear with me.

‘Paradise Lost’ is a gracious opening to the album. We reside in a warm log cabin, cosied up by the hearth as Thomas plucks away on the guitar, his voice gentle but somehow warped and almost robotic; a frequent recurring theme throughout the record. The album delves deeper to the beat of ‘Baby Blue’, organic at its core but washed with futuristic synths that accompany the rich acoustic guitars. The chorus conveys calm desperation, as if Thomas is holding back from pouring his heart out more than he can bare.

‘I Was Young’ is more uplifting. We are greeted with natural harmonics and the singing of chimes, as if played by wind chimes on a patio in the peaceful countryside. Once again we hear that familiar warm voice, partnered with harmonies an octave above, helping carry the weight of the words being sung. The atmosphere thickens as synths dance and sparkle with arpeggios in the distance. The sound is so full, yet there is still air to breathe.

‘No Turning Back’ eases in with a padded synth, abruptly imploding into a melodic acoustic guitar prelude. A chord is held, until the tension is broken by the calm drive of drums. The track carries an eerie kind of aura, as strange reversed clips bounce around the stereo field and a distorted vocoder tries to communicate, accompanied by an array of weird and wonderful sounds materialising around us.

Thomas Dybdahl — The Great Plains

‘Moving Pictures’ sits us back in our chair by the fire in the log cabin, comfortable and content. We are visited by an airy female voice, carefully placing words in our ears. The song serves as a calm interlude to the album. ‘Like Bonnie & Clyde’ follows, upbeat and so full of energy that it is almost theatrical. Like a scene from Grease, I expect backing singers to burst into the song whilst waving their arms at the audience.

‘3 Mile Harbour’ comes across a tad corny, but it’s done with class. It’s the feel-good track of the album, and showcases some enchanting vocal harmonies. The band holds its breath, releasing as a bright synth struts down some steps in the middle of the song. We are then lead to church as ‘Born & Raised’ chimes in. Harmonies echo and surround us as a simple melody is plucked on the guitar, reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’. Almost holy, the song carries the weight of deeper meaning.

‘Just A Little Bit’ is one of the most experimental tracks on the record. It blends an almost traditional Indian acoustic sound with four-on-the-floor drums and modern in-your-face synths. The instruments sound as though they are up to mischief, and there is a cheeky atmosphere to the track. The chorus has catches in the sound, released by meaty bass grooves. It’s a dance track in disguise, playing it far too cool to be held back by labels.

As the album heads to the finish line, ‘Bleed’ chooses a slow and steady pace. As a pulsating chord persists throughout the song, smooth synths rise and fall as we float through space. A sphere of sound envelopes us, as melodies come and go, fading in and out, leading us away.

This is one of my favourite records, as it encompasses organic sounds and feeling whilst still embracing modern production and energy. Deep without being too soppy, and fun without being tasteless. Thomas Dybdahl takes us to places that I will return to time and time again.