There was a time where it wasn’t as uncommon for bands to be as mysterious as the French/Finish duo The Dø. jj is the last group I can think of where no one seemed to know much about them and it seemed impossible to discover more. This phenomenon is now surprising, considering the trend to know more about an artist before you actually hear their music than you know about your closest friends (Odd Future, James Blake). The internet has removed international boundaries and made it possible for you to hear the most random-ass garage rock from Tel Aviv or some lo fi recordings that sound like they were made with antiques. This makes us lucky, as some of the most rewarding music experiences come from left field.
But this almost short changes the experience that is The Dø’s Both Ways Open Jaws. It is not fringe music in sound. In fact, it is very much of the moment, sounding like it was cut from the same cloth as Lykke Li and Fever Ray. Yes, they are all Scandinavian acts with female vocals, but the comparison runs deeper, namely to the ability to combine dark and haunting numbers, regional sounds, cutting-edge arrangements and pop magic. Opener “Dust It Off” plays on all of these, layering a melody that sounds as cold as the Northern European climate over spare piano until the song nearly deconstructs on itself.
Of course, this wouldn’t work so well without a couple of key elements. For one, singer Olivia Merilahti’s vocal capabilities are one of the instant appeals of the album. “Gonna Be Sick!” brings out a primal growl in the bridge, “Too Insistent” goes from excellent to perfect when she jumps an octave before the second chorus, and “Slippery Slope” shows a mastery of both rhythm and band leading. Sure, she can sing a slow one, but when the music gets intense, her ability to captivate only grows.
Also key to the success of Both Ways Open Jaws is the songs’ base appeal. “Too Insistent” rides a melody that manages to be overwhelmingly catchy without seeming cheap. The horns and strings that come in the second chorus are the kind of homerun production choices that appear consistently throughout the record. However, “Too Insistent” stands out as being a perfect song on an album full of near-perfect songs.
“Bohemian Dances” is also a killer, building steadily on an ear-worm melody and clog-dancing beat. Listening to the record with headphones reveals a world of textures behind the song, though it can almost seem simple on the first take. The layered vocals and subtle blips and bleeps are the kind of touches that affect the listener without being obvious. It is restraint without being spare, and if there were ever a class to be taught on the subject, Both Ways Open Jaws would be the textbook.
And what is most amazing about this record is how different people’s reactions have seemed to be. People I’ve shown this album to have thrown around the names Grizzly Bear, The Knife, Arcade Fire, Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective just to name a few. The truth is that The Dø doesn’t really sound like anything else going on right now, but is just the next step in the evolution of fantastic musical art. It is just our tendency when we hear something amazing to equate it with other amazing things we have heard. When something this good finds you unexpectedly, really all you can do is play it for as many people as possible and watch it spread. Both Ways Open Jaws will strike you as both new sounding and classic, as both fresh and rooted in tradition. Most importantly, it will strike you as a treasure, and probably, as the best album you have heard in a long time.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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