The Dø, moments before testing that engines bird-strike countermeasures
  • Arthur Le Fol
  • The Dø, moments before testing that engine’s bird-strike countermeasures

If you pay any attention at all to bylines around here, you know I tend to write about metal. Even my beer column is, at least nominally, partly about metal. But if anything, that should lend more weight to my recommendation of Franco-Finnish electro-pop duo the Dø, right? If music this shiny, bouncy, and accessible can win over a head-banging heathen like me, it must be really special.

Of course, the band’s effect on folks who are better constitutionally equipped to enjoy electronic pop has been even more profound. On February 13 in Paris, the Dø were awarded “L’album rock de l’année” (“Rock album of the year,” oddly) at les Victoires de la Musique, referred to around these parts as the French Grammys. The album in question, Shake Shook Shaken, came out September 2014 in France, and as near as I can tell it was finally released here in February (international borders are pretty porous where music is concerned). Last week the Dø embarked on their first U.S. tour to support it, and they’ll play Schubas on Tuesday, June 2. The band’s core duo, front woman Olivia Merilahti (who sometimes plays guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy, will be joined by drummer Pierre Belleville and, one assumes, a fair amount of prerecorded material.

I probably never would’ve heard anything from Shake Shook Shaken if it weren’t for Jerry’s in Andersonville. I was eating a sandwich and having a tiny beer or four, and at first I tuned out the music playing over the sound system—I heard synths, programmed drums, and female vocals, but as far as I was concerned it could’ve been any one of a hundred bands. The restaurant was playing the whole album, though, and soon I started to notice the depth, complexity, and variety in the simple-seeming arrangements. Four songs in, I pestered a bartender to tell me what we were listening to.

I like the taut feeling of these tunes—every note and beat, even the gauziest streak of synth, seems to be dancing busily on the skin of a trampoline, and that springy energy works especially well in songs freighted with regret, fear, confusion, or recrimination. But the best part of the Dø is Merilahti’s lively, puckish intelligence. You get the feeling that she’s playing at something, maybe inventing points of view to inhabit—and though her clear, high voice doesn’t project any malice, you know you’ll never be certain what she really thinks, no matter how you dissect her lyrics. Her self-aware slipperiness helps make the music a fascinating challenge rather than merely a shiny bauble.

I can’t fathom why the Dø aren’t bigger in the States, especially given the way Americans have latched onto Phoenix—who don’t sound nearly as fun to me. At least Schubas is a fairly easy room to fill. A small club packed wall-to-wall with 160 people usually makes for a better show (at least from the band’s vantage point) than a cavernous hall that looks nearly empty with a crowd twice that size.

These four songs from Shake Shook Shaken ought to give you some idea what to expect Tuesday.

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Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.