[19 January 2012]
On their sophomore album Both Ways Open Jaws, French-Finnish duo the Dø blend genre influences as disparate as the bare bones indie pop of Lykke Li, the orchestral folk of Joanna Newsom, and the globally minded hip-hop of MIA. It’s a potentially precarious balancing act that is solidly anchored by Olivia Merilahti’s dynamic and engaging singing voice, and the subtly inventive instrumentation of composer and producer Dan Levy. Whereas many of today’s genre-melding indie artists rely heavily upon the use of electronics and loop based songwriting, Both Ways Open Jaws is an album that is rich with live, organic instrumentation as Merilahti and Levy channel their infectious pop numbers through an eclectic ensemble of pianos, guitars, strings, brass and live percussion. In addition to the previously mentioned popular music influences, Levy’s arrangements draw upon an array of classical and traditional sources from Hungarian composer Bela Bartok to American Appalachian folk music as well. This range of musical reference points, along with the emotional breadth of the album give it the feel of a meticulously curated play list, or movie soundtrack, and it’s telling that the duo first worked together scoring films and dance performances.
Album opener “Dust It Off”, builds upon a simple, repeated piano line and Merilahti’s softly ascending vocal melody. The hypnotic repetition of these elements continues until the song’s final minute when a current of brass, woodwinds and scattered, fluttering electronic percussion washes over them, drawing the listener into the album’s complex and varied sonic vernacular. On the following track, “Gonna Be Sick”, the Dø reveal their more rhythmic inclinations with the steady thump of a looping, descending bass line, accentuated by live percussion and vibes. The most instantly infectious song on the album is the single “Too Insistent”, which foregrounds Merilahti’s impressive vocal range and delivery set to the backdrop of a driving, guitar based pop structure. The song’s climactic chorus is augmented by rising strings, punchy brass and shout along backing vocals. The Dø’s softer side emerges on “Leo, Leo”, a track inspired by the Cuban classical guitarist Leo Brouwer, as vocal harmonies are held aloft by a steady, surging arrangement of finger picked guitar, strings, harp and keyboards. Then, on “Slippery Slope”, Merilahti morphs into a chanting, MIA cribbing MC delivering monotone exclamations over an intricately layered live percussion groove.
In addition to the obvious musical proficiency that is displayed throughout this album, which in and of itself would make for engaging listening, the true strength of the Dø’s uniquely blended sound is its sense of adventure and good old fashioned fun. It is clear that Merilahti and Levy love what they do, and their passion for music, from the high brow realm of classical to pure, unapologetic pop shine through in every track on the album. Their debut album, A Mouthful, was the first English language record to top the charts in France, displaying the band’s potential for wide commercial appeal. As of yet, they are still poised to break through with international audiences, seeming to fly under the radar of many fans and critics in the U.S. and Europe. This is a shame, for this is a band that crafts wildly creative music that is both challenging and accessible and they deserve to be considered alongside the best of their peers in the realm of independent music.