It may have been a bad idea to name a project Dutch in the electronic age. Search engines tend to pull up websites dedicated to selling foreign language translation services or lyrics for 00s rap songs like “Pass That Dutch.” Internet qualms aside, Dutch are a promising new vocal-and-DJ duo who toe the stylistic line between heavy trip-hop (à la Massive Attack and Portishead) and the recent round of swing and bebop-inspired lady crooners, such as Amy Winehouse or Adele.
A vast departure from his previous recordings, underground rap group Jedi Mind Tricks’ DJ Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind has gone astray. Those familiar with Jedi Mind Tricks’ often brutal lyrics will certainly be surprised by Stoupe’s melodic new direction. Dutch is an inventive vocal-and-beat duo similar in approach to Broken Bells: excellent singer, i.e. Liz Fullerton, meets excellent DJ; both are impressed by one another’s respective abilities; collaboration ensues. In my humble opinion, this collab is much more successful than Broken Bells, and that success is particularly due to Fullerton’s haunting voice.
In fact, this is not their first joint effort. Fullerton made an appearance on “Razorblade Salvation” from Jedi Mind Tricks’ A History of Violence. But on A Bright Cold Day she’s front and center, her airy voice trickling between heavy hip-hop beats courtesy of Stoupe. Stoupe gives Fullerton plenty of room to do what she does best, rarely pushing his boundaries. This element has both pluses and minuses.
There are only two drawbacks on A Bright Cold Day, so I’ll address them now to get them out of the way. It’s actually a cause and effect coupling of complaints I have. The catalyst is that Stoupe’s beats, which are rather good, mind you, are often repetitive and predictable. The format for about half of the songs herein is the all-too-common mix of an electronic, cut-up beat with a descending bass-line with a few string, horn or altered vocal samples thrown on top for good measure. Ice cream plus chocolate syrup plus sprinkles. It’s a formula that works, but follow it once too often and you’re bound for brain freeze and a stomach ache.
This leads to the second complaint, which is that though the album has a pleasant, natural fluidity throughout, the similarity between songs leaves a “meh” aftertaste. Individually, any one of these songs would stand on its own, but in succession, the listener is left wondering which track he or she is listening to, and thus a domino effect takes place. “Pearls,” a perfect example of this, is a great song by itself. But listen to “2,000 Leagues Under My Keyboard” (another great song on its own, despite its horrible title), then “Cerulean,” then “Beyond All Walking,” and you’ll undoubtedly forget which song is which moments afterward. Poe, another female-fronted, downtempo band who are guilty of this kind of repetition come strongly to mind.
Continuity issues aside, this album has more than a few glowing moments. In discussing Fullerton’s voice, a friend likened her to a modern-day Ella Fitzgerald, or a less quirky Regina Spektor while I was more inclined to compare her to Fiona Apple, Feist or Jesca Hoop. In retrospect, all of these comparisons hold a bit of weight. There’s a tonal quality to Fullerton’s voice that is both familiar and distant; it resonates with memories of singers past and present but somehow the combined effect is fresh and strikingly beautiful.
Dutch don’t always rely on such straight-forward models, which thankfully does much to break up the repetitiveness of the album. Standout song “Warm Like the Wind” has a slow, Norah Jones meets Moby feel. Fullerton’s eerie voice creeps and crawls in desperation and love, as if she were curling up next to your sleeping ears. The lone acoustic song, “Meaning of Unequipped” would have been an appropriately pretty closer if it weren’t for the filler track “Shoe (Outro).”
Some songs that do keep to the aforementioned formula are able to differentiate themselves in other ways. “Tristessa,” a song presumably inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novella of the same name, is sung en español, while “California Cloaked in Wool” has a toy instrument symphony-like sound that continually expands into greater sonic depths as each new instrument is added, Sufjan Stevens style, for the first minute or so.
While Dutch certainly know how to construct a single song, what they’ll need to work on for future recordings is album construction and variety. A Bright Cold Day is an excellent base from which to jump. Here’s hoping they’ll learn to better pad their landing next time.
2.Just Before the Rain
4.2,000 Leagues Under My Keyboard
5.Warm Like the Wind
7. California Cloaked in Wool
10. Beyond All Walking
11. Meaning of Unequipped
12. Shoe (Outro)