Dunkie is the whimsically-named music project of Welsh singer/songwriter and musician Anthony Price. Based in the town of Mountain Ash in the South Wales Valleys, Price has written and recorded songs for many years, and in late December 2019 he gifted the world with his exquisite debut album Working to Design. An ambitious and monumental work, the album is a stunning, meticulously-crafted labor of love featuring 17 tracks. Partially inspired by the books and works of author Richard Matheson, Working to Design is a concept album, filled with heartfelt songs exploring the oft-covered subjects of life, love, the passage of time, death and loss, but also healing, hope and rebirth. (You can read my review here.) It was also a collaborative effort, involving contributions by more than 30 other musicians and vocalists who performed on various tracks, most notably Wayne Bassett, a fellow Welsh musician and producer, who played numerous instruments on several tracks, and produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.
Now Dunkie returns with a lovely five-track EP The Vanishing and Other Stories, another wonderful collaborative effort featuring an eclectic mix of stylistic elements ranging from rock, folk and pop to electronic and alt-country. For this work, Price co-wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the songs with Wayne Bassett. As with the recording of Working to Design, he once again enlisted a dozen other musicians and vocalists to add their talents to various songs. And the album artwork was again created by their friend, Welsh Figurative Artist Michael Gustavius Payne. Recorded at Robot Recordings in Aberdare, Wales, The Vanishing and Other Stories is being released on Friday, March 19 through South Wales music label Dirty Carrot Records, and is available for purchase on Dunkie’s Bandcamp profile.
Having different musicians and vocalists performing on various tracks gives the EP more of a compilation feel, although the common thread running through the entire work is Price and Bassett’s superb songwriting. The songs address various aspects of loneliness, isolation and fear – emotions many of us have experienced or grappled with over the past year. About the EP, Dunkie explains: “Reminiscent of 1950’s & 1960’s short story anthologies, collected together in the world of Corgi and Penguin paperbacks, we’ve aimed to create a similar aesthetic with this EP. These songs/stories are grounded in the mundane yet heightened by a haunting, terrifying and sometimes surreal reality that surrounds us, present with despair for human lives, searching for hope in humanity and our own existence within it. Standalone stories, that exist in the same storytelling world we write.” He’s also provided a line or two of commentary for each song.
The beautiful opening track “The Vanishing” touches on feelings of emptiness that often stem from isolation, and ponders whether love can be a healing force. Dunkie elaborates “When lives begin to pull and push away from gravity and humanity, can one collective last breath of society prevail? Maybe only love can fill the hole within the soul…” The song is absolutely stunning, with lush, sweeping instrumentals highlighted by glittery synths, marvelous guitar work by Price, Bassett and Adam Price, and shimmery mellotron played by John Barnes. Anthony Price has a gentle and distinctive singing voice that sounds like a blend of Thom Yorke and Neil Young, and his vocals are deeply moving as he croons “I could disappear and leave without a trace from this world. I’ve left the human race. Nobody sees me, nobody sees me, sees me anymore / You’ll miss me when I’m gone / Only love can fill the holes within your soul.”
“Shadows On The Sun” is an incredibly pleasing folk-rock song with a catchy and upbeat toe-tapping melody, and featuring more of the gorgeous guitar work played by the same three who also dazzled us on “The Vanishing”. Dunkie explains the song’s message: “How long can a surface hold its form before cracking? In a world where darkness rises and lights dim, one earthly, broken figure can no longer take it anymore…“
Dunkie takes us off in a different direction with the haunting and contemplative “Choke“. Seven musicians play instruments on this mesmerizing track, highlighted by Terry Payne’s bewitching flute and Jennifer Drew’s inventive percussive textures. Mali Davies sings the captivating lead vocals, supported by gentle backing vocals by Anthony Price and Rob Lear. The lyrics seem to address the fear and desolation of facing one’s impending death, yet the music is ethereal and soothing, conveying a sense of peaceful resignation: “A fading lifecycle.. Visions searing the skin.. and the figure screams as the silent walls close within a room.. Choking the tears begin, again.” The song seems to end at around 4:42 with sounds of a person drawing their final breath, accompanied by a monitor indicting no heartbeat. But then the music abruptly returns, as if to signify the release and rebirth of the person’s soul into another dimension.
“Deep Dark Heart” is a bittersweet song about a relationship in which both parties have drifted apart, becoming almost like strangers and afraid to be honest with each other: “Blinded by inner demons a mute couple attempt to feel what one each feels, but this comes with a price and begins to pull them from underneath… and slowly takes seed.” The song was co-written by Price and Bassett, along with contributions by Mark Purnell on music and Joanne Jones on lyrics. Purnell also played acoustic and electric guitars and sings vocals along with Sarah Birch. Another reviewer, Grayson Jones, compared their vocals to those of Cat Stevens and Stevie Nicks, and I have to agree. Their wonderful vocals are tender and heartfelt as they sing of doubts and unease toward each other: “Is it in my head? Or is it in my heart? Questions go unanswered through the tether of your bark.” Musically, the song has a haunting alt-Country vibe, thanks to the twangy guitars and Terry Payne’s mournful violin.
On “The Vanishing Shadow“, we have the pleasure of hearing lovely vocals by a third female singer, Lauren Coates. The song has a peaceful, atmospheric soundscape, thanks to shimmery synths, delicate strings and gentle percussion. Coates’ soft, captivating vocals perfectly fit the ethereal vibe, which is broken only by the piercing synth sounds at the end. The lyrics seem to speak to people losing touch with each other through fear or indifference, leaving us to wonder if our lives have any meaning at all: “When lifeforms fall out of reach from one another, into an endless pit of fear, the emptiness in space appears… and they question if they are really… gone.” Coates’ sings “The hardest thing to do, is to prove you exist. With every single coat that you paint erased…and I’m gone.”
Those who purchase the EP will get a sixth bonus track, an alternative version of “The Vanishing”, recorded at an Abertawe Road Studio session. This version is somewhat stripped-down, with richly-layered guitars, magical synths, and Price’s sweet vocals the only sounds we hear. But what sounds they are! The jangly and shimmery guitars are deeply resonant, with a fullness of sound that’s incredibly impactful.
To sum up, I must say that Dunkie has gone and done it again, creating another work of musical art that’s as perfect as it could possibly be. The Vanishing and Other Stories is a gorgeous, expertly-crafted little EP, and a testament to the impressive talents of Price, Bassett, and everyone else involved in its production.