Whilst with many artists, it is easy to slap labels on them that immediately tell the listener what to expect, with Dick Aven, it is easier to talk about what he isn’t. For instance: he doesn’t see generic boundaries as being anything that should concern him too much. He isn’t a follower of fads or fashion, although those with a broad mind will find the echoes of all manner of cool, popular sounds, past and present, threaded through his songs. And, best of all, he isn’t prepared to be dull or obvious or adhere to listener expectations.
And on the subject of musical fashion, his music neatly underlines the point that if you transcend easy categorisation, if you ignore fads and fleet scenes and make music shaped from all and any sound or styles that take your fancy, then the result is something timeless. Classic even. And that is precisely what is happening here, on his latest album, No Arrows on the Floor.
Right from the off, For The Win opens the door to a sound that echoes some gorgeous retro vibes, nostalgic pop pushed gently through a soul filter but a sound not deliberately backwards glancing or wallowing in pastiche or past glories. No, this is music very much of the hear and now, it is just that many of the sonic touchstones it passes through feel wonderfully familiar while incredibly fresh. The result is a sound that echoes an alternate idea of what the seventies might have sounded like whilst pursuing its own original and forward-thinking agenda.
Soul Hacked reinforces this idea even further, a song Van Morrison would have killed for but delivered with Dick Aven’s softer, more accessible vocal tones and the saxophone break that runs through the song’s centre is the absolute icing on the cake. Similarly, First World Blues sounds like a track that you have been listening to all your life, perhaps something tucked away on a lesser-known George Harrison or Jeff Lynn solo album; such is his ability to tap into classic songwriting styles and make them truly his own.
Our Perpetual Weekend sees his head fully into soul territory, a more seductive vibe, a slower pace, a song punctuated with melodic but spacious bass, twinkling pianos and, of course, his soulful sax adding sensuous and sentimental textures to the sonic proceedings. All that is left to do then is play us out with a Lost, a reflective piano-led ballad that would feel right at home at closing time in a sophisticated, uptown jazz bar.
Dick Aven has a gift. It is his ability to make music that the listener already feels totally at home with right from the first spin. It isn’t plundering, plagiaristic, or merely ploughing sonic furrows through past glories; it is original, modern and refreshing, especially in an age where conformity and record industry templates are the norms. Dick also reminds us that music is cyclical and that as much as he shares some sonic space with some of our favourite artists of times past, he is making music for today’s audience. And with music being cyclical, he is also laying a platform for just one glorious possible musical future. One that definitely gets my vote.