Dakota Suite’s What Matters Most doesn’t shy away from home truths, which are applicable on both personal and universal levels. British musician Chris Hooson described the record as being the most complicated Dakota Suite album of his career, and the album took three years to complete. When playing it through, its complexity has more to do with the entangling of shell-ravaged themes and shattered emotions – broken relationships, lingering self-doubt, and the general shit that glues itself to life’s trainers – and less to do with its heavy music.
The instrumentals are, for the most part, fairly simple constructions, adorning and embellishing Hooson’s scarred lyrics. His songwriting is the real anchor, weighing down – and wearing down – the innocent-but-lovelorn strings. Hooson’s lyrics – ‘this aching world, it takes me, it breaks me. Aching scars that time cannot erase’ – are on the point of giving up, despite their best efforts to stand up. Honesty equals revelation, which in turn paves the way to acceptance and eventual healing.
In an ill world, it stands to reason that men and women will suffer fevers of their own, but these night terrors manifest during sunshine hours, tormenting the heart during the day.
Life moves from one crisis to another, but the music has pulled itself from the rubble, shakily getting to its own feet after trying to deal with an absolute clusterfuck. It alternates between the very tangible possibility of escape, like light peeking through a slightly open door, and a horrible inability to find that escape as said door creaks closed. The feet run through tar, as they do when running from someone in a nightmare. Too slow. Too late.
The sound of a heavy heart circulates through an exhausted saxophone that’s been wrapped up in the cloying cigarette smoke of late-night jazz, clogging the vital arteries of its melody. The saxophone is tired, both physically and mentally.
Above all, though, the record is about resilience, and especially the fortress of love, which stands firm even during the droughts and the weariness, the battles and the invasions, where only the strongest relationships survive.
With contributions from Dag Rosenqvist (Jasper TX, From The Mouth of the Sun) and Emanuele Errante, the music is thankful and appreciative for all it’s experienced, and even more thankful for all it’s endured. That’s how we grow. A plant needs to drown in the dirt of its soil before it can flower, and there are positive messages in the music. It’s been through an education, for sure. ‘ Nothing is as effective as defeat; broken things are the glue of the world; someday this pain will be useful to you.’ They’re all relevant, all true.
The piano of ‘Constanta, 1992’ is as pale as cool moonlight, but it shimmers with these truths. Sometimes, the music feels as if it’s persevering, just trying to get through the day.
‘The focus of this record is about being thankful for those that you love and remembering the start of what has saved you from being less than you otherwise would have been’.
That person, in Hooson’s case, is Johanna, his wife, whom he met at a Romanian train station twenty six years ago, and whose presence is clearly felt in the album – on clarinet, to be more precise. Her presence is appropriate: love is embedded in the music, as love is embedded in the heart.