“Eclectic” is a word that has been a little bastardised in recent times. It is a word employed by record companies to describe the false transition of a faceless starlet into darker/dancier/rockier musical territory or the range of influences of a new glossy indie band who want to project the idea they are intriguing while creating sounds that are anything but. However “eclectic” is the word that invariably springs to mind upon listening to French-Finnish duo, The Dø. After hearing their music, it would come as no surprise to learn that Olivia Merilahti and Dan Levy met while writing film soundtracks and music for contemporary ballet. Indeed, touches of magic and cinematic notions are a speciality in their second, mystifyingly titled album, Both Ways Open Jaws, out on Village Green.
Olivia’s delicate voice is paired with an organ for opener ‘Dust It Off’, descending into programmed beats and glitches that embody their marriage of old and new, while she adopts a deadpan vocal for ‘Gonna Be Sick!’ which sparsely tinkles along into an unexpectedly accomplished, perfectly delivered chorus. Things turn cuter but no less offbeat for ‘Too Insistent’, a sweet lament for uncertainty and insecurity with Olivia singing “Just let me grow/I’m still a tiny toad” against a patter of clicks, strings, horns and understated guitars.
‘Leo Leo’ shows their softer side beautifully, with tender, high vocals recalling Joanna Newsom alongside harps and a woozy pace that provide a dreamy backdrop, while ‘Was it a Dream’ is an utterly stunning off-kilter ballad that is yearning, gorgeous and completely arresting. ‘Smash Them All (Night Visitors)’ illustrates the dark reaches of Olivia’s imagination in lyrics like “May this spacecraft/Oh take us to the moon/Evil night visitors/They’re now gone for good (…) I have pictured you in my head/Fighting your way through cobwebs, Vampires craving for food”. These fantastical images, both innocent and otherworldly, convey the sense of being so wrapped up in a romance it consumes you, with the pace changing and flitting through light and dark with ease. Their peculiar narrative runs further on ‘The Calendar’, an offbeat pop song which captures the surprise and ill-preparedness that lovebrings, in lyrics that are both literal and wistful (“Oh you took me off my guard…And I spoke a funny tongue”.) The album ends on ‘Mood Mermaids’, a playful, captivating lullaby, which is so fleeting that you long for more – and that’s the way it ought to be.
While the childish touches may lead some to disregard Both Ways Open Jaws as twee, it is entirely rescued from the brink of saccharine by its sheer weirdness and unexpected twists and turns, in addition to the fact the songs are brilliantly crafted and thought out. While the band keep their love of variety intact, drawing from a smorgasbord of genres (folk, indie, trip hop, classical…) and instruments, this in itself is neither enough on its own to impress nor detract from the music at work here. Although their range is certainly a component of the magic at play, it is also as much the way that the songs are assembled that makes this album triumphant, as throughout they put their own stamp on each new sound. Elevated by Olivia’s soaring, child-like, growling, playful vocals and the interplay between the sparse and the rich, there is nothing much constant in this album as it repeatedly morphs, and like a fidgety child refuses to stand still, entirely to its merit.
The album provides an escapist, immediately engaging dreamscape for the listener, playing with emotions they can relate to and fanciful visions. While they evade labels and refuse to be boxed in, if anything is to be concluded from Both Ways Open Jaws, it is surely that Olivia Merilahti and Dan Levy must’ve read a lot of fables as children, as this might be the only way to explain how they’ve managed to compose such a perfect musical fairytale of their own.