Chances are your enjoyment of A Mouthful, the debut album by Franco-Finnish duo The Dø (pronounced ‘doe’, as in ‘doe, ray, mi’), will be tested early on. Opener Playground Hustle utilises a children’s choir, a tin whistle solo and a lyric about gender conformity, with singer Olivia Merilahti sounding like Björk at her most childish. It’s a strange, intoxicating opening gambit and one that displays immediately their penchant for genre splicing, ambitious musical experiments and the childlike ability to grate and enthral in equal measure.
Such is their disregard of formality that At Last changes the pace almost immediately, with crumpled acoustic strums and plodding drums carrying a downbeat melody and sweet vocal from Merilahti, whose voice is as versatile as the musical backing (supplied by multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy). Next comes the lovely On My Shoulders (a Number 1 single in France), a stately, mid-paced acoustic ballad that marries swooping strings with undulating feedback. It’s reminiscent of The Cardigans when they ditched the rock guitars in favour of country-tinged heartache.
It’s on songs such as this that Merilahti’s distinctive croon works best. As she sings the line “how many summers will I wait? How many shoulders will I break?” her voice cracks, the emotion boiling up to the surface before being swallowed back down. But it’s also a divisive instrument as shown on The Bridge Is Broken, where her constant attempts to rise up and down the notes scale causes the sudden onset of a migraine. It’s a nice song, simple and direct, but it’s made almost painful by the mannered delivery.
When she wants to she can sing with a simple effortlessness, as on the summery Stay (Just A Little Bit More) or the piano ballad When Was I Last Home. Luckily, even when the voice fails, the music is sublime, Levy embellishing every second with interesting sounds and textures. He has a field day on the excellent Queen Dot Kong that somehow manages to sound like Gwen Stefani had she been raised a Gypsy. Over a restless, percussion-heavy beat a flute line chirrups, horns blare and Merilahti half-raps something silly about nothing much. At one point Levy reverses her vocals recalling Missy Elliott, of all people.
A Mouthful reached Number 1 in France, and it’s weird to think of it appealing to more then just a niche audience. It’s not a bad album by any means – in fact two thirds of it are very good indeed – it’s just such an odd collection of ideas, a strange jumble of genres and sounds stitched together seemingly at random. But at its best (On My Shoulder, At Last, the cinematic Travel Light) it manages to transcend the disparate elements and sound cohesive and fresh. They may not become anyone’s new favourite band but The Dø are one to keep an eye on.