Having not lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, or any of the Cold War’s pervasive threats of mutually assured destruction, I may not have much of a leg to stand on, but it feels like we are closer than ever to that other car in our apocalyptic game of chicken. Maybe what feels slightly different now is that it seems almost methodical. The signs all point one way, and we veer off the other through apathy, stubbornness, stupidity or some such notion. Driving metaphors aside, these are the ideas that shape Dog In The Snow’s new album, Vanishing Lands.
Conceptualized and written mostly over a three week period, Helen Brown (AKA Dog In The Snow) states that most of the ideas came to her in the form of strange dreams. All of them in black & white and taking place in a world that was being destroyed. The album cover is representative of this dreamworld, with Brown and other robed and obscured figures standing in stark contrast to the ghostly white cliffs of Dover in the background. The photo shows wear and overexposure, like a found artifact from a time lost to history.
The album opens with the Kate Bush influenced “Light.” It introduces the listener to the themes of death and destruction and stamps our ticket to this other place. The synths start out like distant ships on the ocean, and end up careening overhead in seismic proportion with Brown’s voice in the center, poised, but powerless to the forces she witnesses. Brown also cites Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal as an inspiration for this album, and with her images of temples filled with coffins and widespread panic, it seems like Brown’s speaker and the
crusading knight returning home to find it is overcome with the plague are analogous characters.
“Dual Terror” turns the focus inward, as it seems to examine a depressive state in the midst of the album’s worldview. She pleads with her shadow “great twin, great terror/ I’m sick of fearing everything,” but continually states that she will “hold onto [her] double.” It is a parasitic relationship that disguises itself as symbiotic. The song is a welcome change of pace, trading in atmosphere for a get-away tempo and synths and vocals combining to make an effect similar to the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence from Alien.
“Gold” is another highlight and works as a succinct encapsulation of Brown’s themes. By using the San Francisco Gold Rush as a metaphor, she paints a picture of paradise built on the destruction of the land for the sake of personal gain. This sentiment is echoed in “Fall Empire” with the repeated line, “if we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster” which is taken from the 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi, which explores humanity’s relationship to the Earth.
Vanishing Lands is a stirring record which poses Brown as the prophesier; a host of apocryphal visions, but without the answers on how to change our fate. She leaves that up to the listener. The best anyone can do is point to the signs on the side of the road and hope that we go that way instead of the other, like the countless times before.
review by David Kandal