Dakota Suite

The Hearts of Empty

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Beginning with the quiet contemplation of "Easy Steps," whose short bursts of acoustic guitar interspersed with silence shift without pause into "Cataluna," and its blend of guitar and brushed percussion and piano, Dakota Suite takes an almost sprightly turn on The Hearts of Empty, sternly romantic title aside. But it seems an understandable contrast to the darker-tinged releases bandleader Chris Hooson's been doing of late, something that confirms that sunlight has much of a place as shade, and perhaps the difference lies in the fact that it is a solo effort under the group rubric, with David Buxton actually playing everything based on Hooson's compositions. As the album moves forward, each song feels like it's building on the one before it, with an actual sense of sequencing and follow-through that isn't a concept album as such; it's less a story being told than a mood being maintained and developed, with the pace increasing and decreasing as a gentle ebb and flow through new approaches, whether in terms of instrumentation, arrangements, or simply atmosphere. Hearing the soft, flowing hiss of cymbals and sweetly ambling piano on "Eskimo Nebula" gives a sense of easy grace, while its near counterpart, "Vermont Canyon Road," includes some drum hits and soft synth shimmers which create something a little more concrete and earthbound, something that feels like it should be on the gentlest side of neo-prog via David Sylvian in the late '80s or Tim Bowness in the late '90s. Even a seemingly sudden shift to keyboards on "The Ladder" feels like an extension of the slow, slide-tinged guitar notes on "How to Stop a Moving Body" from both guitar and bass carrying through as a steady rhythm. By the time of the album's conclusion with "Legend of the Skies" and its dreamy cycle of effects-and-piano over cymbal hits leading into the soft jazz breakdown of "The Basin," the collective effect is one of content entrancement.

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