Over the last few years, it seems as if Scandinavia had mastered this pop music business. Whether it be sad, melancholic but still danceable pop like Robyn or Lykke Li, heartwarming acoustic harmonies such as First Aid Kit, or The Knife‘s wilfully eccentric and challenging electro-experimentalism, our friends over in Denmark, Sweden and Norway know how to create blissful, strange and wonderful music.
The Dø may be half-Finnish, but in reality are as French as an episode of a BBC4 subtitled Saturday night crime drama. Olivia Merilahti (she’s the Nordic half of the duo) and Dan Levy have been around for 10 years now, producing a couple of albums of promising if sometimes off-puttingly quirky synth-pop. Until now, they’ve always seemed destined to hover around the margins, but Shake Shook Shaken sounds like a bit of a reinvention, almost a statement of intent. For, with their third album, The Dø have decided to crank up the Scando-Norse inspired pop factor, and they sound like a completely revitalised prospect.
Like all the best pop music, it’s pop with a deliciously sad edge to it, rather like the aforementioned Lyyke Li in fact, and although some people may still find them a bit grating (Merilahti’s voice can vary wildly between an irritating screech and a more palatable chilly croon), this is still their strongest album to date. Although opening track Keep Your Lips Sealed may put some people off – in which they attempt to hijack St Vincent‘s love for a robotic jerky rhythm track with far less success than Annie Clark manages – it’s when Shake Shook Shaken settles into a reflective mood that its true delights are unveiled.
Take the beautiful Sparks for instance, which glides in on an impossibly lovely and glacial synth line before exploding into a chorus that fills your heart with joy. A Mess Like You is similarly heart-tugging while also maintaining a slightly spooky veneer – it’s on songs like this that they position themselves as the natural successors to the likes of Broadcast, a reference that also comes to mind on the evocative closing instrumental Omen. It’s surely only a matter of time before an enterprising lo-fi horror film director signs them up to provide a score.
The best of the more upbeat moments on the album have a glorious type of harnessed chaos, as exemplified best by the lead single of Despair, Hangover And Ecstasy, which marries a soaring rush of a chorus to a clattering cacophony of synths or the energy-fuelled buzz of Going Through Walls. Admittedly, they sometimes seem a bit too willing to put their more experimental side on the back-burner, which means that eventually the quality dips – Anita No! is a rather mediocre skip which begins to sound, a bit oddly, like early ’90s Swedish popsters Ace Of Base, and Miracles (Back In Time) is one of the few if notable occasions where Merilhati’s vocals err on the slightly shrill side.
Yet for every moment which fails, there’s a track which can come along and effortlessly break your heart, such as the gorgeously mournful Lick Your Wounds, or a song which already sounds like a modern dancefloor classic like Opposite Ways. Shake Shook Shaken may not be an unqualified success, but it certainly does what its predecessors couldn’t – it marks out The Dø as real contenders to keep your eye on.