Like the jarring post-credits scene in the ’80s cult classic Masters of the Universe where Skeletor emerges from a magenta lake to growl, “I’ll be back!”, the strange instrumental closing track on The Dø’s third album, Shake Shook Shaken, surfaces unexpectedly to hint at the Paris-based duo’s future. Part horror flick chase scene, part Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”, “The Omen” bumps like something gone wrong in the night (or someone who got hold of a Casio keyboard with a Halloween effects button). It’s a startling departure from a release that’s already making a purposeful retreat from a past steeped in folky flourishes.
Finnish chirper Olivia Merilahti and French multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy have ditched the acoustic instruments responsible for injecting their 2008 debut, A Mouthful, and 2011’s follow-up, Both Ways Open Jaws, with the warmth of a Parisian café. Instead, they’ve set up a sparse keyboard and laptop in their pastoral 18th century water tower-turned-personal studio. The synthetic blips and laser-focused squiggles of “Despair, Hangover and Ecstasy”, along with the Sia-esque histrionics of Merilahti’s vocals on “Sparks”, thrive in this tech-friendly approach. However, The Dø 2.0 sucks out the gravitas at the heart of the conflict in “Opposite Ways”. Plagued by second thoughts over a love affair, the song speaks of each partner “facing the void” without the other. Instead of allowing Merilahti’s gossamer voice to do the heavy lifting, Levy’s trills turn her mantra of “sorry about this” into a flip apology.
Despite the duo’s dedication to minimalist equipment, the album’s 12 tracks burst with the illusion of a hundred hands on deck. “Nature Will Remain” rumbles with the force of a high school drum line as Merilahti reaches for octaves usually reserved for Kate Bush. The rallying “Lick My Wounds” reproduces her vocals into a chorus of teenage squeals that’s more empowering than grating. “Going Through Walls” takes its clickety-clack percussion cues from the Chicago Bucket Boys lining the Windy City’s streets with drumsticks and overturned five-gallon buckets, while “Anita” mimics Jethro Tull’s signature flute contortions.
The stars align on the deceptively simple “Trustful Hands”, where whimsy overpowers uncertainty and the chaos of everyday living. An obvious standout, the track succeeds at melding the duo’s earthy past with its streamlined present. If only the rest of Shake Shook Shaken combined The Dø’s left and right brain as seamlessly.
Essential Tracks: “Trustful Hands”, “Sparks”