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Music Review: The D&oslash – A Mouthful

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Sometimes, when first listening to an album, I may not connect with it right away.  But then I play it a few more times, and certain tunes grow on me.  One perfect example is A Mouthful, the debut album by the French/Finnish duo The Dø.  Sounding like The Cardigans (best known for their hit “Lovefool”) with a dash of Feist’s world beat, the group encapsulates a variety of musical styles, resulting in a unique blend.

A Mouthful was first released in France in 2008, where it reached Number One on the charts.  The Dø  (pronounced “dough”) became the first French group to achieve this feat with an album sung almost entirely in English.  Comprised of singer Olivia Merilahti and instrumentalist Dan Levy, the group formed in 2004 and began playing local gigs.  Subsequently they gained a following on MySpace, and their single “On My Shoulders” appeared in an English stationery ad campaign.  This exposure led to their initial success, and they are now trying to break into the US market with A Mouthful.

Summarizing The Dø’s sound presents a challenge.  Their site defines their mixture as “indie rock, folk, dance, and mid-20th century pop…Finnish folk, dark techno, [and] a sly bit of rap.”  Indeed, their album spans all of these genres, making for a unique listening experience.  In other words, when I did not care for one track, I simply waited for the next—chances were that I’d like it.

The DoStandouts on A Mouthful include the aforementioned “On My Shoulders,” featuring Merilahti’s wildly fluctuating voice accompanied by backwards guitar loops and violins. “Why would I carry such a weight on my shoulders/ Why do I always help you carry your boulders,” she cries.  The chorus remains in one’s head, mostly due to Merilahti’s distinctive style.  The tone changes with “Stay (Just A Little Bit More),” a delicate ballad that perfectly melds Merilahti’s ultra-feminine vocal style with gentle ukulele.  The Feist influence dominates “Unissasi Laulelet,” which uses Finnish folk styles with a touch of African percussion.  The catchy rhythm and complex percussion dominate the song. 

Other unique tracks include “Tammie,” with its sunny, hand-clapping beat.  Just when one thinks their sound can be defined by infectious beats, along comes “Queen Dot Kong,” an unlikely injection of hip hop.  Imagine if Björk decided to cut a rap single, and one gets an idea of the song’s feel.  Its offbeat rhymes, constantly changing tempos, and Merilahti’s at once delicate and tough vocals work together in an odd way. 

The mood turns dark on songs like “Searching Gold,” an eerie, twitchy ballad.  Merilahti explores the slightly deeper ranges of her voice, while the violin adds to the overall creepy tone.  In addition, the psychedelic-tinged “Travel Light” heavily uses distortion effects to create an overall dark, downbeat tone. 

Fans of Radiohead should enjoy “Aha,” which represents more straightforward rock but uses distortion and other effects.  “In My Box” follows largely the same feel, with The Dø leaning toward a harder sound.  Finally, the tone changes again with “When Was I Last Home?” a delicate ballad that showcases Merilahti’s unusual but lovely voice.   

Bonus tracks include “chamber” (i.e. unplugged) versions of “On My Shoulders” and “Unissasi Laulelet” as well as an extended, largely instrumental version of the song “Playground Hustle” entitled “Playground Hustle and Bustle.” 

Although bloated at 18 tracks, A Mouthful provides an intriguing introduction to The Dø’s eclectic, somewhat eccentric brand of music.  Adventurous music fans may want to sample the duo’s material and decide which of The Dø’s many sides they prefer most.  Repeated listenings reveal new nuances, and days later people may find themselves humming the chorus to “On My Shoulders” as I did. 

For more information, visit The Dø’s official site and MySpace page

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About Kit O'Toole