Franco-Finnish band The Dø built a good reputation for themselves with 2008’s A Mouthful, and this time round their new record Both Ways Open Jaws has been released in the UK as well (albeit eight months later). The UK release of the record features two tracks (‘The Bridge Is Broken’ and ‘On My Shoulders’) that featured on their first album, in order to set the scene for newbies.
Singer Olivia Merilahti has been compared to Björk, and while this on the surface may seem like a lazy comparison based on them both being flamboyantly dressed Scandinavian women, the two share the qualities of not feeling bound to any genre in particular, something that works excellently on Both Ways Open Jaws.
Opening the album is ‘Dust It Off’, a quiet synth-led showpiece for Merilahti‘s voice. There are hints of Radiohead‘s ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ on this track, which is understated and beautiful and showcases Merilahti’s delicate vocal floating on a simple synth line. Easily one of the best tracks of the year. Immediately following this is ‘Gonna Be Sick’, which sees her singing in a lower register than usual, and it makes her sound like Nico if she could actually sing. Next is ‘The Wicked and the Blind’, which begins sounding like a trip-hop track before subtly shifts into what sounds like a blockbuster soundtrack. There is even a brief foray into dance music, with ‘B.W.O.J’ sounding like Justice if they lived in a forest in Finland.
The theme throughout Both Ways Open Jaws is mostly playful, and with the variety on display there is never a dull moment. For example, the almost medieval-sounding folk-hippy groove of ‘Bohemian Dances’ is followed by the bipolar ‘Smash Them All (Night Visitors)’, which starts off upbeat and descends into a sparse, down-tempo pop/classical crossover featuring interesting string arrangements presumably informed by Merilahti’s former life as a film music writer studying classical music.
The Dø stand out because, though one can find small similarities with other artists, nobody is really making music that sounds like this at the moment. Both Ways Open Jaws is as varied as their debut, but where the quality of A Mouthful seemed to dip in the second half the new record is brilliant throughout. The subtle production also lends itself to listening through headphones, and rewards repeat listens. One of the best and most interesting records of 2011.
Good: Great songwriting, interesting arrangements, spot-on production.
Bad: Picking hairs – no massive singles.