Pacing is an underrated skill when it comes to songwriting. There are plenty of people who can write sticky hooks or come up with memorable turns of phrase, but it’s much harder to understand the ebb and flow of a song, to know exactly how long it needs to be and how to space out its musical ideas. If the pacing is off, a song can end up front loaded like your average TikTok hit, or it can turn into a tedious exercise in Waiting for the Climax. But when it’s done properly, it guarantees that the listener never gets bored, no matter how long the song runs.
“One Love,” a song by the Scottish singer-songwriter Dot Allison from her lovely new album Heart-Shaped Scars, is almost six minutes long, but it doesn’t feel as though it’s stretched too thin. Allison is an experienced, eclectic songwriter, dabbling in trip hop, alternative dance, psychedelia, and synthpop; all requiring different songwriting needs, all of which she has done well. “One Love,” as with the rest of its parent album, is a lush, florid folk ballad, not far removed from Vashti Bunyan or Linda Perhacs. This too, she does well, even as it rolls on for longer than most songs on, say, Just Another Diamond Day.
The song’s pacing is languid, but it’s purposefully so; Allison takes care to let every element of the song breathe, carrying the listener along like a leaf floating in a gentle stream. When melodies repeat, it’s long enough after its first iteration that it feels fresh again, and she’s careful to add new things to occupy your ear. For instance, “One Love”’s opening melody disappears for a while, before reappearing halfway through the song accompanied by breathy backing vocals.
Musically, “One Love” is almost eerily gentle. The guitar is plucked like it might fall apart at any moment, and Allison sings in a tremulous half-whisper, as though she’s trying not to wake someone in the next room. There are strings throughout the song, sometimes swooning with romantic bliss, sometimes vibrating in the air with the tension of a held breath. It’s intimate, but it’s a very fragile kind of intimacy: the kind that takes a long time to reach, and the kind that you fear can shatter in a second. Allison reinforces this theme by using a flower motif in her lyrics: its “stem bends towards the light,” but it can easily perish in the shade, and its beautiful petals will crumble and wilt.
“One Love” asks for your patience as a listener, and while you may have to retrain your ears in this age of instant gratification, the rewards are more than worth it.