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A Mouthful

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Album Review

The Dø — the Parisian duo of Dan Levy and Olivia B. Merilahtin, whose moniker (pronounced like "dough") derives from both member's initials, but also refers to the first (and last) note of the solfege scale, as well as the Norwegian and Danish words for "die" — stake out their unconventional indie folk-hip-pop territory with A Mouthful. It's all over the map, both musically and emotionally, and can be a lot to take in ("A Handful" might have been more appropriate), but they manage to strike a quirky yet affecting through-line that mediates between their frisky playfulness, fiery brashness, and tenderly sentimental sincerity, and helps to integrate the album's stylistic hodge-podge so that its eclecticism feels improbably natural rather than forced or gimmicky (or simply schizophrenic.) To be sure, the album's success rests largely on the duo's high-caliber musicianship — in particular, multi-instrumentalist Levy's dextrous, sophisticated arrangements (which reflect, among other things, both his jazz influences and the pair's past collaborations on a handful of film soundtracks), and Merilahtin's distinctive, versatile singing voice — which allows them to tackle an idiosyncratic assortment of genres with uncanny ease and coherence.

For the bulk of its running time — roughly two-thirds of the tracks, give or take — A Mouthful doesn't stray terribly far from relatively familiar, primarily guitar-centric folk/pop/rock fare, with a particular focus on breezy balladry (including the autumnal "Song for Lovers" and the sublime, elegantly bluesy "At Last") and a few tougher-edged roots-pop nuggets ("On My Shoulders," "The Bridge Is Broken.") Often, especially on the more aggressive cuts toward the album's end, this material recalls the artier side of '90s alternative and indie rock — a comparison brought home by Merilahtin's passing vocal resemblance to prettily gritty singers like PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Nina Persson (specifically her work with A Camp). Even on these comparatively pedestrian offerings, the Dø offer far more compositional and instrumental nuance than your typical songwriterly outfit. Elsewhere, they hop through genres with gleeful abandon, calling to mind the infectious precocity of early Nellie McKay, the capriciousness of Beck, and perhaps even Björk's limitless ingenuity. Not that anything here feels remotely like a derivative genre exercise. "Stay (Just a Little Bit More)" is a cute bit of retro-pop whimsy polka-dotted with ukulele, whistling, strings, and carnivalesque organ; "Queen Dot Kong" is a shockingly credible but utterly demented stab at hip-hop with a swaggering horn section, all manner of cartoonish musical left turns, and its own expansively grooving instrumental-fusion coda. And the album's hidden gem is "Unissassi Laulelet," an all-too-brief curiosity that blends bewitchingly harmonized a cappella vocals (sung in Finnish) with polyrhythmic, quasi-ethnic "tribal" percussion to truly enchanting effect. Then there's the downright off-the-wall opener, "Playground Hustle," a sort of nursery rhyme-war chant by an army of disgruntled, gender-norm-disrupting youngsters, set to a spasmodically funky found-sound beat, which sounds like the Go! Team skirmishing with Le Tigre in a schoolyard scrap-heap with Matmos (circa The Civil War) providing the arsenal. Or something. Anyway, it doesn't really sound like anything else out there, or for that matter like anything else on this album — which makes it a pretty appropriate calling card. The Dø's debut may be a mouthful, but it's deliciously sweet, tangy, and zestful, and definitely well worth biting into. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

Biography

Formed: 2005 in France

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A French-Finnish duo claiming whatever sounds capture its fancy as its own, the Dø (pronounced "doh," like the first note of the solfege scale) features multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy and vocalist Olivia Merilahti. The pair met while working on the music for the 2005 French film Empire of the Wolves and, taking the first letter from each of their first names, christened their own project the Dø soon after. The duo's first release, a three-song EP that included "The Bridge Is Broken," a song composed...
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