David’s Lyre - Picture Of Our Youth

If only you could tune out the programmed beats.

Rating: 6

While his Manchester brethren WU LYF have become famous for obscuring their faces, Paul Dixon (aka David’s Lyre) instead favours a black mask that makes him look more Zorro than a troublemaking prankster. The thing you have to wonder about the mask is, why all the secrecy? Perhaps he thinks people might be disappointed in his looks: after all, “David’s Lyre”, if anything, brings to mind a famous Biblical-themed painting by Rembrandt.

The truth is, Dixon combines the more traditional singer/songwriter guise with dubstep beats, adding the lyre in his moniker into the mix for good measure, and creates something that could only be borne and potentially mainstream in the post-James Blake world. The history of this release is also an example of today’s times: recorded over a 12-month period in London, Dixon had anticipated the album’s release through a major label before being unceremoniously dropped by said label. He’s now releasing this album on his own, asking people to be generous through his Bandcamp. Will people take to David’s Lyre and hand over their hard-earned money? Will people even know his album exists, in the absence of the kind of publicity campaign only major labels can undertake? Only time will tell.

His debut album ‘Picture Of Our Youth’ begins harmlessly enough with ‘English Roses’, the guitars with reverb and vocals transporting you to the halcyon days of Cliff Richard and Fabian. If you need a modern day comparison, the closest would be Liam O’Donnell of Various Cruelties; there’s an overall sincerity to the vocal delivery that will give you chills, and the only hint this pop song belongs in the 21st century lies in the funky drumbeats.

What disappoints about this album as you listen to it is while it’s clear Dixon’s voice is made for pop, the instrumental layers put on top don’t seem to always match. Despite the crunchiness of effects, Dixon’s voice seems to be at odds with the r&b slinkiness of ‘The Fall’; ‘This Time’ and ‘Hidden Ground’ utilise shuffled beats, but you start to feel uncomfortable, like Frank Sinatra is trying to sing to a younger crowd. ‘Only Words’ has a fun rhythm you can dance to going for it but again, the vocals just don’t feel right. Paul Dixon is one talented man with one hell of a voice. Most male singers today would kill for a voice like his. So one can’t help wonder what the final product would have sounded like. If he tried a completely different tack and simplified things.

A far better showcase for Dixon’s vocals is ‘Piano Song’, with Dixon’s voice full of wonder accompanied by nothing but, yep you guessed it, the piano. ‘Picture Of’ has layers but demonstrates Dixon’s deft hand in balancing violin with minimalist beats, ultimately building towards a dramatic, climactic ending from a soulful, bluesy starting point. ‘Picture Of Our Youth’ closes out with ‘This I Know’, framed with gorgeous harmonies and strains of a string section. If only you could tune out the programmed beats.