Album Review: Lady Dan - I Am The Prophet
The headline was simple: “Lady Dan — ‘Better Off Alone’,” and it was enough for me to click on the link, because my first thought, or what I anticipated, was that I would be directed toward an article, or blurb, regarding a cover of the 1999 trance anthem of the same name1, originally performed by the Dutch electronic outfit, Alice Deejay.
I apparently wasn’t the only one.
Another reader, and registered user of the site Stereogum2 commented, “Ngl, I was really hoping this was an Alice Deejay cover.” Tyler Dozier, the woman behind the project “Lady Dan” shared a screen shot of the comment on Instagram, where she goes by the charming @ of “unclebeercan.”
“Ngl, this is an amazing idea,” is her caption.
There is a sense of humor that runs throughout Dozier’s work as Lady Dan—sometimes, it’s very subtle, and usually, it’s pretty dark or at the very least, viscerally self-effacing. The project’s sound, per the bio on the Lady Dan Bandcamp page, is described as “Melancholic cowboy sounds you can cry in front of your cat to.”
The snarling repartee of her debut EP, Songs for The Soulless—which featured lyrics like, “I’m starting to believe that we are already in hell—or some kind of alien simulation,” and “I’m so bored all the time—I feel like I’m dying or at least I wish I was,” in just the opening song alone, has been refined ever so slightly for her first full-length effort, I Am The Prophet; however, there is still a strong, almost always noticeable, satirical undercurrent running throughout, giving it a lyrical edge, regardless of how melancholic or twangy the arranging may or may not be.
There is a sense of humor that runs throughout Dozier’s work as Lady Dan—and outside of the promotional updates around the release of I Am The Prophet, and pre-2020 photos from Dozier on the road, her Instagram page has become a place where she’s cultivating more examples of her dry, sardonic, self-aware wit, like another Stereogum screen shot of somebody saying they were disappointed Lady Dan isn’t an “all female Steely Dan cover band,” or, more recently, a meme of the album’s eerie cover art.
The photograph, stark and black and white, taken by her sister Autumn, finds Dozier sitting next to herself in the booth of a dive bar3—a coffee mug rests on the table in front of one version of her; the other version of her holds a glass, her arm casually draped across the top of the seat.
Written across the top of the album’s cover art is this: “Hey, my girlfriend saw you from across the bar and we really dig your vibe. Can we buy you a drink?”
It seems almost too easy—or maybe I’m making it seem too easy to analyze why Dozier is seated next to herself on the cover of I Am The Prophet, because there is an inherently multitudinous nature to both her, as a singer and songwriter, but more importantly, to the album.
Yes, these are “melancholic cowboy sounds,” but Lady Dan is so much more than that.
I hesitate to say that I Am The Prophet is a restless album, but it is an album that sonically continues to shift and evolve as it unfolds, and in doing so, creates a nervy tension.
There is a rollicking, jaunty energy that is conjured with the album’s first song, “Paradox”—by far, one of I am The Prophet’s twangiest, it also serves as a conceit of sorts for the myriad themes Dozier explores across the record, including the fact that she, as we all seem to, contains multitudes4, and is often complicated and contradictory—“A paradox—a woman of stone,” she sings in a line that is returned to throughout the sprawling, poetic lyrics. “To want to be loved an left alone. I am blindingly cold and numb; I am too hot for my tongue.”
That rollicking, breezy musical feeling continues within the shuffling groove of the album’s second track, “Dogs,” which continues the exploration of the many facets to Dozier as a person, as well as a contention between women and men. “You say young women are dangerous to you,” she begins in the audacious opening line—then comes that razor sharp sense of humor. “Six years later, now I’m the one with commitment issues?” The cutting raillery continues a few lines later—“We sat on the floor talking all night. Said he liked my voice, he liked my songs—he liked my mind. But I wish I could say the same for you.”
I Am The Prophet is by no means a “break up album” of any kind, but it is an album informed by a break up, among other things—in press surrounding the release of the album, much has been made already of Dozier’s compelling backstory, including her extremely religious upbringing, a manipulative ex-boyfriend, and her father’s passing from cancer prior to the release of her debut EP in 2019.
It sounds ambitious, if not incredibly difficult, to work all of that into the album, but alongside the humor, Dozier does so with an admirable grace—and it is not only the album’s thematic elements that are ambitious; musically speaking I Am The Prophet becomes more and more ambitious and densely arranged the further you get into it.
A song like “Dogs” begins jauntily, yes, but midway through, Dozier allows the song to take a somewhat unexpected musical turn—slowing things down, and introducing a heavier, borderline psychedelic feeling, only lasting for a little bit before she guides the song back into the rollicking, free-wheeling aesthetic it began with. The album’s titular track is similarly heavy and woozy with a psychedelic tone—crisp percussion and a hypnotic guitar riff create a swooning atmosphere that is all too easy to become lost in, especially when Dozier allows the music to deliberately build to explosive peaks—“You call me over when you was water turned to wine,” she bellows over the swirling, practically dizzying instrumentation.
Musically, as I Am The Prophet continues, it becomes more lush and beautiful sounding—and overall, more daring as it settles into itself. Yes, there is still that smoldering twang, and a hint of a folksy nature, but Dozier pushes herself into bold, robust places, with songs like “Misandrist to Most” and “Drink Your Sorrows,” both layered heavily with percussive elements, being damn near whimsical in their arranging, providing surprising jolts to the album’s sequencing.
As restless of an album, sonically speaking, as I Am The Prophet can be at times, or at least, it’s an album that refuses to settle into something musically predictable, there is a place where the many elements that make up Dozier’s aesthetic converge.
“Better Off Alone” burns slowly, yes, and the shuffling percussion creates a slinky groove, but it’s the distended guitar strums that course throughout the song that give it a truly gauzy sensation—not quite shoegaze, maybe kind of like dream pop; regardless, it’s the kind of song that you can imagine playing while watching Audrey Horne sway with reckless abandon in the Double R Cafe in “Twin Peaks.”
There are also instances of sheer beauty, often coupled with devastation.
Opening with a brief, instrumental introduction titled “Intro to Loss,” “No Home” arrives shortly after the second half of I Am The Prophet begins, and it’s truly the first absolutely breathtaking moment on the record. If “Better Off Alone” was the song that first caught my attention, prompting me to check out the other singles that had been released in advance of the album, it was “No Home” that knocked the wind right out of me, showing me that, without question this was going to be the kind album that is something to behold.
Outside of Dozier absolutely going for it, vocally, with an unbridled pleading in the way she delivers the lyrics, “No Home”’s arranging is flat out beautiful, with warm, dramatic, and sweeping string accompaniment alongside her powerful acoustic guitar strums, and a twinkling sound in the melody, bittersweet, but just charming enough to offset the tension.
I Am The Prophet closes with a song that is less devastating, but no less gorgeous—“Left Handed Lover,” begins with the shuffling percussion, building a slight and delicate groove alongside the acoustic guitar, which she works toward something much, much larger, and more grand than that, with the inclusion of wind instruments and the same melancholic twinkling keyboard from “No Home,” shimmering across the top of it all.
And when it all comes tumbling into place, the song creates a very familiar feeling—not really antiquated, but definitely inspired by a different time, calling to mind the warm, abundant arrangements and instrumentation of pop music from the 1970s, with the myriad sonic elements she’s worked with across the entirely of the record converging once again into a final moment of staggering and arresting beauty.
If there is one lyric you can pick out from I Am The Prophet as Dozier’s thesis statement, it would be the phrase she repeats through the jaunty rhythms of “Misandrist to Most”—“I’ll be my own savior; I’ll be my own best man.”
The title of the song, alone, should also be a strong indication of the place Dozier wrote a lot of the songs from, and in the press release for I Am The Prophet, she explains the material comes from her attempts at detoxing her life. “I started creating my own moral compass because I realized it had been previously made up by men in my life—pastors, boyfriends, people who didn’t care about my best interests,” adding the songs are her “processing and shedding” that part of her life.
“Men will never vet my owners again,” she declares when “No Home” reaches its peak. “I’ve been reborn—I’ve got a new skin. I’m no longer a slave to all of your patriarchal sins.”
There is a lot, as you might expect, to unpack from Dozier’s lyrics, regardless of if they are blunt and direct, or dressed up in evocative, poetic imagery. Not every song on I Am The Prophet tackles volatile gender politics, or her religious upbringing—and not that those songs are “less personal” than others, but there are moments that are more personally accessible than others.
“Better Off Alone” provides Dozier the chance for self-deprecating reflections, as she lets her voice coast over the swooning arranging of the song. “I’ve been spending my time at home by myself,” she muses, in a line that, given the state of the world over the last 14 months, is both eerie and accurate. “It’s not as sad as it may sound. No romance, no social—I’ve caused enough trouble. I think I’ll stay home—I’m better off alone.”
She’s even more effacing on the slow burning, soulful “Plagiarist’s Blues”—“By now, I’d count a forfeit a win,” Dozier muses with a pensive twang in both her voice, and the way the song’s instrumentation hangs in the air. “I am the misery of defeat,” she sings later, before the paradoxical refrain hits: “I don’t want to write my own songs—I want to sing everybody else’s. Yet there’s no one who feels quite the way I do.”
With an album such as this, full of such weighty subject matter, one would think that, when it ends, there is little, if any resolve. I Am The Prophet, though, is an album that is full of surprises—musically, just in terms of how complex and lush the arrangements are; lyrically, with how poignant and fearless Dozier’s writing can be; and in the end, it might not be the kind of resolution that really solves the larger themes present, but there is a surprising tenderness Dozier manages to land upon during “Left-Handed Lover.”
In the closest thing to a love song, across the swirling accompaniment setting a gorgeous backdrop, Dozier paints a vivid picture of a brief, but powerful and beautiful moment. “I miss your hands resting over mine,” she waxes. “Hold me while I cry. Sing to me ‘You Can Close Your Eyes,’” she continues, making reference to a James Taylor song as well as, of all things, “Fly Like An Eagle.”
And even in this moment of tenderness, there is still something bittersweet in the way she constructs it, ending with the stark, but honest observation, “Left-handed lover, I’m getting older.”
There might not be a clear resolve when I Am The Prophet concludes, but that’s the point—and Dozier, as the person who has opened herself up this much, is okay with that. There are enormous places where she encounters catharsis, both for herself, as well as the listener, and in all the moments throughout where she was able to find a piece of herself—the self removed from her previous lives—she is still very much on the journey of continued discovery.
Dozier’s first outing as Lady Dan, Songs For The Soulless, was fully steeped in the “melancholic cowboy sound,” and arriving only two years later, I Am The Prophet is a gigantic musical step forward for her—a densely arranged, thought provoking tapestry, coupling with the personal, fiercely intelligent lyrics, makes this a powerful and poignant artistic statement that can make you laugh, yes, but more importantly, demands your full attention and leaves you pondering in its wake.
1- If you are familiar with it, you will know that the Alice Deejay song “Better Off Alone” is an absolute bop to end all bops; and the chaotic, horrifying “witch house” cover of it from Salem, released in 2011 is pretty incredible but also one of the most intense things I’ve listened to.
2- I really hate the writing on Stereogum but it’s news briefs about artists like Lady Dan, that I might have otherwise missed entirely, that keep me checking the site.
3- The photos were taken at The Dive Motel—a dive bar, motel, and swim club, located in Nashville, TN.
4- This is the third piece, in a row, and perhaps this reference to “containing multitudes” was on purpose, or maybe a bit of a reach, but this is the third piece that I have written where I talk about a multitudinous nature, and I worry that phrase is becoming something new I overuse in my writing, like “evocative imagery” or “shadowy, fragmented lyrics,” or “shimmering guitars.”