Dahlia Sleeps’ tremendous debut album, ‘Overflow’, reflects the London-based duo’s ethereal purity, which exists in their immersive trip-hop and contemplative stories of us.
Dahlia Sleeps‘ seven-year journey has been full of peaks and valleys. The London-based band were on the fast-track to be one of the UK’s most popular trip-hop / dream-pop outfits, as they created widescreen yet bone-chilling and intimate songs à la Portishead and London Grammar. Their 2018 debut EP, After It All, was one of the finest mini-albums of that year, and it offered a taste of their potential. They quickly followed that up with the equally stunning, Love, Lost, and the question was not whether Dahlia Sleeps would be great but when. Then everything was paused as the band sorted out what was next.
Two members (Spencer Buckley and Callum Sharp) opted to pursue new projects, leaving Lucy Hill and Luke Hester as the remaining members. Hill, meanwhile, was dealing with numerous issues. Her father was ill, she encountered other personal losses, and she had finally found her voice as a queer woman. In the four years that have passed, Hill and Hester patiently and meticulously worked to make this now two-person project sound as grand and immersive as it was when they were four. Like the tortoise racing the hare, slow and steady wins the race. At long last, Dahlia Sleeps’ debut album, Overflow, arrives, and it is a stunner.
The LP’s ten songs capture the ethereal purity of the duo’s immaculate art. The record is dramatic at one moment and serene the next. It rises to grand cinematic heights, but then descends into the intimacy of the bedroom. One trait, however, exists in every track – sincerity. This is achieved by the duo’s attention to detail in the soundscapes they craft and in Hill’s touching stories. Opener, “Divided”, is just the tip of the iceberg. A light, swirling darkness fills the space, creating a dreamy uneasiness for Hill’s ghostly yet penetrating vocal. She reveals how lies and mistrust have torn two siblings apart.
“All those times I
Listened when you cried
Built a demon
From bits of my mind
We were blood do
You need reminding?”
This ability to create contemplative songs is what sets Dahlia Sleeps and Overflow apart from the pack. Through the mournful environment created from the light, gauzy guitar and sobering strings, Hill seeks to lift the spirits of those who have fallen on “Too Good To Hide”. She is like the best friend people have yearned to have, and one who can be honest yet encouraging at the same time. Softly she utters, “I have a lot of things to learn / Watching you hate yourself / But I’ve got time to fall in line / Just lose some pride”. The ethereal, midnight dance number, “Overflow (The most beautiful thing)”, on which Hill’s vocal reaches Florence Welch levels, likewise, finds optimism in the midst of the darkness.
Dahlia Sleeps share a similar message on “Collide”. Its bedroom intimacy provides the perfect canvas for a message about never letting go of loved ones because one does not know how many days remain. Hill speaks from experience, as she shares on “White Flag”. Arguably the duo’s most brittle song, Hill’s pain-stricken voice hovers over a melancholic piano arrangement before the electronics and percussion lightly burst around her. It’s stunning yet at the same time incredibly emotional. Hill shares how she feels like nothing more than a helpless observer, as she watches her father battle with depression. All she can do is be there for him and encourage him to “don’t fall down”. Adding to the track’s impact are voice recordings that Hill sent to her father, where she shares memories and tells him she is there for him.
A similar message is delivered on the piano-driven “With You”. This time, however, Hill seems to direct her lyrics to a friend, to whom she thanks for their patience with her. Because like everyone else, Hill has demons to battle, which are recounted on the hymnal “Wars”. Delicate and restrained in its delivery, Hill’s looping voice sounds like she’s backed by a choir. The multiple layers, though, represent Hill’s many sides and troubles. She pleads to others to be patient with her. “If you see me sinking, please try to understand / I’m trying, you’ve got to see that I am”, she vulnerably sings.
The album’s centerpiece is found in “Close Your Eyes”. Its power lies in the surgical precision of the pair’s orchestration, where every element penetrates deeply. The subtle changes in tempo and urgency add to the song’s impact, as the tranquil waters turn dark and begin to surge. As the melody rises, the experience reaches ethereal heights. All the while, Hill’s soulful voice grabs hold like a parachute, creating a breathtaking levitation. She becomes the safety harness, helping the powerless to be brave in the face of adversity. In the face of the tormentors and haters who seek to harm people who are “different”, whether due to the race, sexuality, gender, religion, etc.
“So close your eyes and stay blind
We won’t wait for you to wake
Our whole damned lives
Built on your hate and lies
Where do you hide your shame?
I won’t give it all
Just to crawl
Just to fall, my love
No I won’t give it all
Just to crawl
Just to find I’m not enough”
The album closes on a tender note with “The Calm You Keep”. Stripped back to just the light pattering of the drums and a somber but stunning crystalline guitar, Hill’s voice describes how in this tumultuous world there is still one safe place. This is the comforts of our parents’ bed. Here one can hide from the demons, haters, and approaching storms. It’s a place where life is sublime. Her words are the perfect way to end an album that was long in the making but immensely rewarding.
“I climb into your bed
Just like a child that laid and wept
You did not show your fear
You knew a sun was somewhere near”
Overflow is available everywhere, including on Bandcamp.
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