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The DÝ - A Mouthful

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Artist: The DÝ

Album: A Mouthful

Label: Six Degrees

Review date: Apr. 12, 2010

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has argued convincingly against negative reviews. If memory serves, he made his point by recalling a Ď90s zine culture built on tearing othersí work down. But if the underground music writers of the time felt pressure to pick on bands whose appeal was pretty limited anyway, Internet-era music writers might be said to feel the opposite. Careerism looks more like searching unconvincingly for value in haystacks of dullness than burning some up-and-comer. Music criticism, too, seems more accessible and more relied-on than it was when Darnielle was coming up, while the likelihood of finding an actual negative review seems lower. Still, itís difficult to present my thoughts on this album by Franceís The DÝ ó that, despite its pleasantness, it likely gave its marketing team as much pleasure as it will most listeners ó and feel like Iím doing my job. Calling it a "job" is already a stretch ó Iím not putting away trickle-down label funds or any funds for that matter, nor is any pressure being exerted on my editor by a label heís in the pocket of. Instead, itís a vague, "social" prohibition to not be a hater.

A Mouthful is not bad. Its problem, apart from cheerfully lifting from two of the more annoying things to happen to hip hop this decade on the self-explanatory "Playground Hustle" and with the daffy Lady Sovereign-isms of "Queen Dot Kong," is that itís so emphatically not-bad that the good has a hard time coming through. This must be learned indie behavior, insisting on its own tastefulness to the exclusion of making a point. This used to be called MOR when it was a radio format. Now it might accurately be called "good design." Punch through that level of polite static to discover The DÝ have songs to back up their cuteness ó itís just that the songs donít stand free of their cuteness. Itís structural.

Thereís a guilelessness to the bandís borrowings that leads to varied results. As much as the rap moments on the record make me cringe, stealing the texture and feel from Loaded-era Velvet Underground and packing it with straightforward sweetness, as they do on "At Last," sounds like a smart way of using a well-worn influence. The voice of singer Olivia Merilahti is restless and bird-like, not the kind of voice that keeps well in the memory. The closest it comes to annoying on the album, though, are with the big, cracking arcs she sings on "The Bridge Is Broken." All the music is richly produced, too, layered without being crowded, something the press release attributes to co-member Dan Levyís background as a soundtrack composer.

On this level, their bio is fairly pat, almost tailored to prick up the ears of advertising firms and plucky indie movie directors. Instead of a ground-up or top-down approach, itís a medium-float one that is utterly realistic about its limitations, artistic and commercial. Thereís a refreshing lack of fronting ó these guysí biggest career ambition might be that tertiary use of their music. More often than not, when a band switches style as self-consciously and as regularly as The DÝ do between songs, the actual content of the music gets partly lost in the show ó and A Mouthful does sound as much like a resume as it does an Artistís Album. But faulting such a good-natured band for not working within parameters that might not quite be relevant any longer, particularly when Important Statements are often as throwaway as the trashy stuff, isnít fair.

But thereís no throbbing necessity here: most of these songs are more concerned with quirk and cute than in connecting to you beyond a basic interpellation. "Hey, I like your sweater!" And itís nice when people "get" your sweater, Iím not knocking sweaters. Itís just that there isnít much else to the conversation.

By Brandon Bussolini

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