“Who’s Dakota O?” was the first question a few posed when picking up the artist’s debut EP Recluse. It’s an easy question to ask. The indie-psych songwriter hasn’t established a large presence in the music scene, yet. His Facebook page has less than 50 likes. Dakota and his backing band have played less than five shows total. And he’s only been making music for two years. But Dakota O might be your new favorite artist.
Listeners who checked out Recluse were met with waves of quiet intensity. Relying heavily on delicate synth soundscapes and background guitar riffs, Dakota O, real name Dakota Bristow, cites psychedelic and chillwave as major influences on the album. From beginning to end, it’s an EP that’s so easy to get lost in that you may not even realize that a few songs on the release go well past the five-minute mark.
Recluse‘s sense of ambition and scope is surprising for a debut. What’s more surprising is that this is Bristow’s first real run at writing and recording full songs, and it’s his first foray into production. “It was always just little things,” Bristow says. “I started recording real songs at the start of the album. I recorded it in succession, so you can hear the production quality getting better.” Songs like the fast, dense, and shifting “The Room is Dead” have the sound of an artist who has spent years honing their craft.
Bristow proves himself to be capable of wearing every hat required to make an album. Not only did he play every instrument, but he took it upon himself to mix and master the final product, contributing to the warm, lo-fi aesthetic. Originally, Recluse was going to be professionally mastered, but Bristow was unsatisfied with the way it came back from the studio. “I just kind of said, ‘Fuck it,’ and mastered it myself,” he says. “I’m sure it could have sounded a lot better, but I just felt frustrated at that point from just sitting on it.”
The album was Bristow’s passion project for almost a year. One of the many setbacks he met was a broken computer. It effectively halted all recording opportunities, prompting Bristow to seek a second job to pay for a new machine. Sonically, the listener can hear the time spent on the album. Trial, error, slight experimentation, and obsessive details are all symptoms of the effort Bristow put into Recluse. “I was just extremely meticulous with it,” Bristow says. “I’ve listened to those songs way too much. I’m honestly kind of sick of them because I got so nitpicky with everything.”
The hard work paid off for the singer-songwriter with praise coming in just a few days after the Halloween release date. City Paper music editor Kelly Rae Smith dubbed it a “masterpiece” after it dropped, and her enthusiasm is contagious. “Happy” closes the album out with audible experiments in tempo changes. The track shows Bristow pulling zero punches as he brings a song that plays like it has no refrains, moving from riff to riff like they were on fire and he needed to escape. It’s the summation of a year’s work in six minutes, but it’s six minutes that are likely to be lived again and again.
So where is Dakota O headed next? Bristow plans on spending his post-Recluse time doing what most artists do: perform and record more. His current backing band is composed of members of the Orange Doors, Camel Blues Band, and Townhouse. “If you like the music, then the live show’s so much better because all of them are just killing it,” says Bristow.
The next Dakota O release won’t take another year, he promises. The estimated release date is February. “I think with this next one I want to get back to that. Get weird with it, instead of love songs,” says Bristow. Currently untitled, Bristow says the next album will be heavily influenced by the Oh Sees, defined by a more poppy and riffy sound. With more releases and performances planned, no one will have to ask who Dakota O is anymore.
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