Review: The Dø ‘Shake Shook Shaken’

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

Many have proven that a straight-forward, lean and immersive synth-pop album is not always the easiest option, however attractive it may seem, come a certain point in an artist’s career. Euro-centric, male female duo The Dø have released two albums that failed to commit to any one particular genre, but Shake Shook Shaken eschews the looser, live instrumentation of their earlier, experimental art-pop and shaves their essence down to the sonic bone. It’s not necessarily a gamble for the pair who could have considered any number of directions at this point, but it’s a certainly a decision which is executed satisfyingly well.

Olivia Merilahti’s voice has a mournful clarity and some glacial weariness to it, but in the Shake Shook Shaken opening salvo of rapid-fire pop melodies, she uses it in a way that is pleasingly sarcastic and dictatorial. ‘Now, do as I say, keep your lips sealed – walk away’ is the first command given over the gradually increasing marching drums and the wall of blaring synths in ‘Keep Your Lips Sealed’. ‘Miracles’ uses layers of crisp and graceful falsetto to counterpoint a swirling keyboard riff and persistent drum machines. ‘Going through Walls’ thrums, buzzes and crashes with a cartoonish level of energy, and in the single ‘Despair, Hangover and Ecstasy’, new-wave aspirations are only enhanced by Merilahti’s effortlessly shrill bite.

The first half of the album takes everything into perfect consideration: outrageously climatic and sudden endings to songs, harmonies and melodies that equally delight and addict and soundscapes that could, in the main, have been recorded at any point following the Human League’s ‘Dare’ without ever falling into pastiche territory. ‘Anita No!’ may be a charismatic enough song title but it heralds the first the real dip in quality; and at song number 7, this can hardly be considered a failing, with the remainder of Shake Shook Shaken shifting the energy towards something that’s less compact and compelling.

‘Lick My Wounds’ tries to make up for a weak song with considerable enthusiasm and bluster. On the other hand, ‘Opposite Ways’, whilst being better, never quite pinpoints a melody which is in there somewhere. ‘A Mess Like This’, with its spooked organ chords and lurking strings, recall Broadcast at their introspective best and is a warmly reassuring sound based around a chaotic situation. ‘Nature Will Remain’ has Merilahti soaring beacon like above military drums, a reoccurring musical motif here, and impresses with its pleading declaration.

The album ends with ‘Omen’ – an instrumental variation on the earlier ‘A Mess Like This’, which appropriately enough, would not have sounded out of place on the soundtrack of Berberian Sound Studio, a film about 70’s goth-horror porno electronic soundtracks. An odd way to end such an exuberant and cohesive collection, perhaps, but their eccentricity is apparent throughout. However, it’s never overwhelming, which helps this album avoid some of the failings of 2011’s Both Ways Open Jaws which proved it was possible to be both silly and dull. The Dø have mastered the quick and furious requirements for making determined and grabbing three- dimensional electronic pop with the inclusion of a warmly beating heart. In doing so, they have made Shake Shook Shaken their most essential record yet.

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