You know what, this makes sense to me. Watch the video I just linked to and then read this. This post is intended to be accompanied by that video.
It’s weird to say I love Doves, because it’s like saying you fell madly, madly, madly in love on a casual first date. Doves are, to paraphrase an Adam Sandler movie ever-so-briefly, they are 50 first dates. For Example, you can learn certain things about their past, told in specific ways. All three members of the band were part of an electro-pop act called Sub Sub who had some club success in the mid 90s. On the Andy (drums, vocals) and Jez’s (Vocals, guitar) birthday (they’re twins, they’d let slip after appetizer arrived), their studio burnt down, and they took it as a sign they should abandon electronica for live instrumentation. This is how they started a real live band. The fire, coming from any other band, would be a huge deal, you would feel the scorch on your eyes as the band tried to save their master tapes, tried to rip off baby pictures. With Doves, you picture they breaking off a bread stick, pouring quite a bit of pepper on it, taking a bite and saying, “No, it just burnt down and we couldn’t go back, and that was it.” Doves don’t let you in through words.
Through words, Doves songs speak in the universal. They wrote a beautiful love song called “NY”, but it could be about any city, anywhere. It just speaks of bluster and headshock and slurred sound. They wrote a song called “There Goes The Fear,” probably one their most famous and one of the best, but the fear in the title never materializes. I’d guess (and, at this time, you’d be halfway through your entree, checking your watch to make sure you’re still going to make it to the movie in time) the band came up with the title first, and then added in lines like “You turn around and life’s passed you by,” because that is what perhaps the world’s greatest fear is, isn’t it, but not because it’s something they’ve felt. Doves are fine lyricists, sometimes they write a line that is downright poignant , but they almost never write words I find myself singing, or saying “yeah, that’s it. They got it.” What Doves do, (and what they do better than, quite honestly, any other band I regularly listen to,) is make beautiful, meticulously beautiful, seismically beautiful music. Now back to the video.
I have this feeling that, although they would never admit it, the three men who make up Doves (that’s Andy and Jez Williams, and Jimi Goodwin) are absolute perfectionists (on the date, just to give some closure to that metaphor, they drain every ounce of their wine glass, and only kiss you a quarter of a mile walk away from the traffic when you’re walking along the river). The beginning of the video I linked to above has something that black cab sessions almost never have, a band tuning, making sure everything is plugged in and such. These sessions are designed to be off the cusp, quick, but I get this feeling Doves don’t really do off the cusp, and the producers wanted to show that. In fact, Doves crowded the little cab so full of instruments (two guitars and keyboards), that the camera can barely focus!
Dove’s first album, Lost Souls is a frigid, glassy affair, bleak to the point of almost being overwhelming (but, like I said, those lyrics don’t quite rip out your guts, so it stays just on the “whelming” side of overwhelming), but as an introduction to the point I’m trying to make, it works quite well. What Doves do, on every song they record, quiet, loud, fast slow, angry sad, is focus their energy on making every sound coming out of the speakers sounds just the way they’d like it to. Nothing is neglected. Listen to the title track from Lost Souls and see what I’m talking about. The guitar sounds less like what you picture a guitar sounding like, and more like 6 taught strings attached to a precisely carved piece of wood, hollow. The drums are rain falling in perfect 4:4 time (the drums are not in 4:4 time, but the rainfall is, and the drops don’t splatter when they hit the pavement, they immediately dissolve), the bass feels like an elevator, and, my god, even that tamborine that makes itself known around the 3 minute mark sounds immense. Go back to the video, really quickly, and go to the 2:41 mark. In an interesting move, the camera people focus on the two guitars being played, the strums of both hands perfectly matched up. This probably happens in most songs, but it is so important to what Doves are (or, at least, what I’m making them out to be).
But it’s easy to make a slow song with a big buildup sound great. That’s what Slint did. Doves give just as much care to their rock songs. And their next album, The Last Broadcast, was where Doves became a rock band. I’m not going to give you “There Goes The Fear,” their big single from this album, the one I mention above, because it doesn’t prove my point as well as the song I do provide links to. You need to go listen to that song. It gives you reverie like a break in the clouds. If nothing else, here’s a video of it. Pounding is a rock song, not rock and roll, but volcanic rock. Its drum beat is probably one that anyone could learn within five minutes of picking up drumsticks, and the whole song follows suit with that. Every beat is sound and then the space between then are impact craters. That guitar solo just fucking shreds. It’s simple, right down to the title, but sonically, it is just as crafted as any other Doves song. And one more, my favorite song from that album “The Sulfur Man,” starts at a god-level height. Falls back to the lower atmosphere, and then swells up, resting on CO2 and waiting for itself to explode.
The band’s next album contained none of the evolutionary leaps that occurred between their first and second albums, but it did have a strengthening of their sound, due to their constant refinement of how make a song fit together. On Some Cities, their third album, we’re almost on the Molecular Level. Here are two tracks that show you how, differently. “Almost Forgot Myself” is a song, like Leonard Cohen or the National that is built for rainy days under big buildings. I just want to point out two reasons this song works so fell: It’s drums are essential, they are its balance, and so, they and are placed right up front, right next to the vocals. And how the bass and guitar lines continually glue themselves together and then carefully peel themselves apart. Sky Starts Falling creates such a perfect sound (it has a wall of sound, an impenetrable wall) that I want it played at my funeral.
I haven’t heard the band’s new album, Kingdom of Rust, which came out just a few weeks ago, yet. I can assure you without even hearing it, that, on one level, it will be perfect. Doves albums always are.
And the video, the most perfect, structured live performance that will ever take place in the back of a London cab, the video ends with the band laughing a bit and singer Jimi saying, fittingly “This is very novel. Good fun. Sounded tight, didn’t it?”
(and while we’re talking about black cab sessions, man, i love Richard Thompson)
PS: Anyone wanna justify Titus Andronicus to me? I’m from Jersey, hell, I’m from Bergen County, and the whole thing still sounds like a basement punk band (who may have read some faulkner) stuck in a mousetrap.