by trevor elkin
Vancouver’s Douse are the kind of band that so often gets overlooked – unassuming, intensely professional and passionate musicians who have lots to share. Their debut album, released (and missed by us) last year, ‘The Light In You Has Left’, is an intelligent spree of eclectic songwriting, combining all the best bits of the band’s diverse influences. It also marks the start of something new, with principal vocalist and guitarist Alea Rae Clark evolving from being a solo artist to sharing their creative processes with guitarist Patrick Farrugia and drummer, Jeremiah Ackermann. As with all new beginnings, there are pasts to forgive, ghosts to set free and power to reclaim.
First, a confession: the first time I heard this album, I loved it because it reminded me of The National. I couldn’t get past the potent frame of reference of Matt Berninger’s voice and phrasing. Then I remembered hearing ‘Alligator’ for the first time and what I’d said to the friend eager to impress their brilliance on me: “Yeah, it’s really great but it’s kind of like Joy Division?” Of course, I was wrong then and wrong again about Douse. It made me reflect how often I really listen to music to appreciate it for what it is, without reducing my enjoyment or otherwise to a neat comparison… What if we treated people in our lives the same?
‘The Light In You Has Left’ is like finding a hidden entrance to a cave on a beach you have walked maybe a thousand times before – it pays sometimes to look closer at the seemingly familiar. From the desperate suffering of opener ‘The Importance of Each Other’ to ‘Careless’ and its gentler, yet crestfallen deconstruction of a crumbled relationship, Alea Clark’s empathic lyricism is magnetic, drawing us into their world view, with us floating powerless alongside them as their stories unfold. The musical backdrop to all this is almost orchestral, sometimes barely there – just a tentatively plucked guitar – other times it’s a grandiose firework display. Douse also uses rhythm to infer harmony and discord where tonal changes alone aren’t enough, including some truly challenging polyrhythms. The peak of this particularly angular style is ‘Speak To Carry Us’, which unwinds like a spidery, hand-made musical charm before bursting open into a glorious chorus. Outstanding in every sense, the urgency of ‘I am More Directed’ channels an empowering message, propelled by a battery of rhythm, guitars and Clark’s delivery; culminating in “Is that all there is? Is that what I am to you, this violence? If you get aggressive, I can get aggressive, I can get aggressive!”
The feelings that remain after the final track’s fade-out can often tell you everything you need to know about an album. With Douse’s debut, these emotions are hard to pin down, but they’re certainly there. It’s melancholy, maybe, but not depressing despite the deep introspection and occasional sense of hollowness. Here, sadness is caused by being too certain, assuming predictability or not leaving room in your life for surprises. Despite this, Douse carves out an intricate arabesque of golden guitars and agile drums, ultimately giving even the heaviest moments energy and lightness. Beyond that, Clark’s lyrics grip the memory tightly: “no-one wants to be wrong, the torment of getting along”, “we won’t love one other, we’re not capable of it” or “if you were held by the throat, would you talk your way out of love, again?”. These words are the fraying corners of a relationship, not worn out through being well-loved, but out of carelessness and disregard. No-one deserves that. We should all try harder.
You can stream ‘The Light In You Has Left’ in full here, and below it Douse delve deeper into their songs, in an exclusive track-by-track guide.
words by douse
A song that was pulled apart and reshaped a lot. This song started with Alea’s part and is often referred to as a departure of their older work. It feels like the most lush song on the record, Colin Stewart’s production really shines on this track. A music video is currently in development and is set to release this summer.
‘Unrest’ is the first song that started with something Patrick had brought – he had these 2 interlocking guitar riffs, which became the intro/verses of the song. It sort of marked the main shift into a collaborative writing process. Initially, Alea was writing the bulk of the songs and the band would write around them together.
This song underwent several transformations. We spent around 2 years tweaking and re-writing sections until we felt it made sense. It switches between 7/4 and 4/4 time a lot, but it feels quite fluid now and we’re happy with how it turned out. We had a trombone & cello player improvise multiple tracks during the instrumental outro which adds a really fantastic colour to the song.
‘Cave In’ is about Alea’s relationship with their father. Jeremiah initially had a lot of different percussion ideas for it, but in the end it felt like it made sense being as sparse as it is.
Along with the last track, this interlude was written almost entirely in the studio – it’s the only track that doesn’t feature Alea at all. It was written as a conclusion to ‘Cave In’, in a way. Mostly comprising of layers upon layers of guitar, this song idea was the only track that was solely Jeremiah’s concept.
This song is the oldest on the record – Alea wrote it when they were still a solo artist and it developed during the very beginnings of the band. Even though we were concerned it was a bit too folky for the record and might not fit right in with the band’s new direction, we felt it had its place in the end and are glad we kept it in.
We call ‘Speak To Carry Us’ our “endurance song” – it’s the most intensive song on the record in terms of playability and has the least amount of breathable room. Patrick initially brought his pitch delay riff to the band and at first we weren’t sure what to do with it, but we wrote around it and it came together quite nicely and quickly. It is loaded with polyrythms that were initially unintentional and purely based on feel and improvisation. As our producer says “everyone has that one weird song on their record”.
Possibly the most lyrically powerful song on the album – Alea felt this was their chance to write about their experiences growing up female and has found a lot of empowerment through it. Other women have reached out to us and told us how meaningful it has been for them; it’s meant a lot to Alea to have helped empower other women/non-binary people. It’s also the most fun song for us to play on stage!
‘Careless’ was actually only supposed to be a short interlude that Alea wrote, but Jeremiah was insistent that it should be longer, and we’re glad he did. It was one of the last tracks we wrote just before going into the studio. The drums on this track were written entirely on the spot and were surprisingly recorded in only a few takes.
We were interested in doing a couple of ambient tracks for the record, so we’re really pleased with how this one turned out. Patrick simply let the delay from his guitar parts in ‘Careless’ ring out until they faded, which was actually maybe 20 minutes and not the 5 minutes the song lasts. Alea had our session string players do a bit of improvising that they patched together afterwards.