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Dotan - 7 Layers (Review)

Dotan, 7 Layers

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WELCOME to the world of Dotan, aka Dotan Harpenau, and the next singer-songwriter you’re going to want to get to know.

Reminiscent of acts like Jose Gonzalez and Bear’s Den, this Dutch artist (who was born in Jerusalem) is fast generating positive reviews and an army of fans – and it’s easy to hear why. His debut album, 7 Layers, is great.

Described by its own label as “a quiet masterpiece”, this finds Dotan creating a precise atmospheric tone that is deeply emotive and personal, yet capable of widespread appeal.

The ingredients are simple: Dotan’s emotive voice, his acoustic guitar and some backing vocals and percussion. It’s been done before and, as previously mentioned, there are obvious similarities but there’s a beauty here that’s both beguiling and life-affirming. It’s a record with heart.

“I never thought about commercial potential; I just went in, recorded my album and then came the scariest part: waiting for the response,” he says.

To date, the result has been overwhelmingly positive. And you can hear why from the outset, as warm acoustic licks herald the start of opening track Let The River In, a folk-pop slow-burner that eases its way into your mind and wins you over almost immediately.

But there’s better to come. Fall takes its time to unfurl from its sparse, atmospheric start. But once the soft acoustics combine with the Gonzalez-esque vocals, there’s an intimacy that resonates. And then the beat kicks in, which propels the guitars and gives rise to a really great melody and chorus. It’s an instant highlight.

Hungry has another strong acoustic hook to entrance, while title track 7 Layers benefits from a moodier sound and another great set of vocals that weave another rich story of lives being shaped by certain decisions and the emotional repercussions (“I was a stranger in my own skin”).

The album’s centrepiece, meanwhile, are the two tracks Home, which again find Dotan in commanding form. The first part unfurls amid a kick-ass back-beat and offers up one of the album’s most robust songs (it’s a soundtrack moment in waiting, akin to the type of material that filled Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

But it’s follow-up, Home II, is equally compelling, albeit a quieter closing half. It shows how Dotan can combine the grittier with the smooth; the invigorating with the poignant.

The remainder of the album maintains the enjoyment levels. Swim To You is just a really warm song, albeit one that unfolds amid gentle acoustics, while the more plugged in It Gets Better tip-toes into more folk-rock territory and – again – succeeds in showing another layer to what Dotan has to offer. It’s a catchy moment that continues to build its momentum, especially once the beat kicks in.

Put together, Dotan’s 7 Layers marks the arrival of a major new singer-songwriter talent. It has a timeless quality reserved for all the best artists.

Download picks: Fall, Home, Home II, 7 Layers, It Gets Better

Track listing:

  1. Let The River In
  2. Fall
  3. Hungry
  4. Hush
  5. 7 Layers
  6. Home
  7. Tonight (Interlude)
  8. Home II
  9. Swim To You
  10. It Gets Better
  11. Waves
  12. Ghost