Consume Me is the début album from Dog In The Snow, a solo project from Helen Ganya Brown, who is a touring member of Brighton dream pop outfit, Fear Of Men. This album was written during the American leg of Fear Of Men’s epic tour in support of Fall Forever, which took up most of 2016. It was all recorded swiftly in a two week break at home. The album is minimalist, mostly synth with guitar and voice, I suppose lo-fi – but it doesn’t come across like some scratchy half-baked bedroom album. It sounds polished and considered. It is sparse, but each layer serves a purpose, sounding like it has all been carefully selected.
The album holds together extremely well as a collection of songs, the circumstances of their inception and creation most likely contributing to the cohesion. There’s a sense of place to the record and, to my mind, that space is both claustrophobic and expansive – a little like those endless American vistas one can imagine, as seen from a tour bus window. There are strong themes throughout the album that seem at once deeply personal and universal. Brown evokes a sense of alienation throughout and, while I sense this is coming from her own personal experiences, it equally manages to tap into a general sense of disconnection with contemporary consumer culture which will resonate with many listeners.
The world she’s built here feels dystopian, but it’s not some distant future where we’ve lost everything, it’s the here and now experienced with open eyes that are not anaesthetised by soft entertainment culture. It may sound like I’m coming in heavy handed here, trying to consume this work on an intellectual level rather than just letting the lusciously stark sounds wash over me, but I feel I’m recognising the intent. In interview Brown has said that the band name is inspired by the closing chapter of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a work of philosophical fiction. The protagonist dies at the end, stabbed, ‘like a dog’. Brown’s lyrics, and the purposeful clarity with which they are delivered, evokes the sense of enquiry we find in the work of a writer like Kafka. Helen Ganya Brown seems to me to be something of an existentialist thinker, looking for authenticity in a world dominated by television and plastic repetition.
‘Child’, one of the singles to proceed the album, explores the idea of women withholding their ability to reproduce until the state of the world improves for them: “I won’t have a child unless you show me humanity/I won’t have a child until you stop bombing me/I won’t have a child until there is safety/I won’t have a child until you stop selling me…”. After the shortest of verses it repeats this refrain expansively, building and building around the motif until the vocal lands on the line: “Fuck your TV family”. A tacit refusal to accept the prescribed role that most women are expected to perform, as a mother to 2.4 children. Maybe this idea of conformity is starting to feel a little old-fashioned in the liberated and liberal circles I inhabit but, here on this track, the refusal feels vital and engaging.
‘Mirror’ is another key track, which continues the theme of a displaced sense of self that is also discussed in spacious earlier tracks ‘Blood’ and ‘Face Me’ (the track titles throughout the album are all made up of one or two short words). “My soul is sideways and doesn’t know itself/the white man sees me Asian, the Asian sees me white”, could be the most personal lyric on the album, referring directly to Brown’s mixed race heritage, accompanied by a discordant set of descending chords that sound nightmarish. Later on there is some respite from the sadness, as ‘Magic’ explores the dreams of childhood. However it is seeped in a sense of nostalgia and loss. The grit in the vocal lends it a slight air of desperation, it’s an emotional piece, wanting to recapture that feeling of wonder we lose as we grow older. Despite the somewhat more upbeat elements there are more touches of musical discord that add to that underlying feeling that something bad is happening – it sounds to me like the tuning of the synth lines’ rise after each note, which has a jarring affect.
My favourite moment on the album comes towards the end of the title track ‘Consume Me’. After an ambient pause from the main body of the song the lead vocal returns with a beautiful melody, that sounds like it could be borrowed from some classic jazz standard of the 20s. “Maybe you still dream of me/like I would always be there/ waiting for you to be real/and open up the earth with me”, Brown softly sings, over muted, reverb-soaked sounds. Coming as it does towards the end of an album full of cold alienated introspection, the beauty of this moment feels a little like a warm comforting hug. Which reminds me of why I love melancholy music: there is beauty in the sadness, and release too. Rather than feeling like I’ve been trapped in someone else’s nightmare, listening to this album makes me feel like I’ve experienced their catharsis, and that’s a comforting feeling.