Album Review: Dan Whitehouse & Max ZT – Ten Steps

Ten Steps is the new collaboration between Birmingham/Tokyo-based singer, songwriter, poet and guitarist Dan Whitehouse and New York, USA-based musician Max ZT. As an album, it’s a doozy, exploring fatherhood, world politics and golf swings across seven engaging tracks.

By Graeme Smith

Feature photo by Peter James Millson

The album opens with its title track which sets out what’s to come. Isolated spoken word starts things before we get minimal percussion. There’s something utterly mesmerising by the combination of the two, and that’s amplified by the sung backing vocals. The percussion grows but doesn’t overwhelm, meaning our attention stays on the poetic lyrics. It’s a truly beautiful start.

Bury One’s Head takes the listener on a journey, vividly painting a picture of chaos, inspired by the events at Kabul airport, Afghanistan in 2022 during the collapse of its government. Shizuka draws from Dan’s time in Japan and its culture. The word translates as “quiet” and the track is suitably peaceful, rich with ambient sounds and gentle plucked strings. The Perfect Circle sits at the heart of the album. Based on a poem by Katie Whitehouse (no relation), it shows us a lighter, brighter side of Dan and Max’s sound. It’s a highlight.

Hammerhead, an ode to a crane that links the UK and Japan, is delicately introspective before the album is rounded off by two longer meditations. How To Strike was, remarkably, a single-take improvisation by Max which brings to life the narrative of the slow grind towards perfection. The Many Colours Of Morning is a long, lingering trip through Dan’s life on Tokyo bay. It’s a final highlight.

Dan and Max are about to take the album on tour, starting in Winchester tomorrow evening. If you’re looking to catch them closer to York, then Manchester is your best bet. They’ll be there 28 October at The Stoller Hall. Other stops include Abingdon on the 19th, Milton Keynes on the 22nd, London on the 24th, Shoreham on the 25th, Cricklade on the 26th, and Birmingham on the 27th.

Ten Steps was recorded by Dan in Yokohama, Japan. It was mixed by Max ZT and mastered by Mark Freegard. Dan features on vocals and guitars, Max on hammered dulcimer, percussion, and synths (recorded in New York). Background vocals are by Ösp Eldjárn and Taiga Mori-Whitehouse. Gustaf Ljunggren features on synths. You can check out the album below.