The Dutchess and The Duke / Boduf Songs
She’s the Dutchess He's The Duke / How Shadows Chase The Balance
(Hardly Art / Kranky; 2008)
By Clayton Purdom | 22 August 2008
Spurred on by a track review from Chris Molnar, I’ve been thinking, recently, about acoustic guitars, and more specifically whether or not they suck. This would be disconcerting to me, because I enjoyed playing acoustic guitar for years, thrilling listeners with soulful, uptempo renditions of hits like “Wonderwall” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Unfortunately, I don’t like Britpop. I think this acoustic habit was exorcised finally by the Chads in plaid shorts that played O.A.R. with pussy-popping aplomb throughout the verdant college greens when I was a freshman, and all I could play in response was, like, Britpop.
Point being, the acoustic guitar lacks luster. It’s a strange pick to be the only instrument that I can manipulate with any semblance of skill. I’ve never been much interested in “chords” or “licks” or “solos” or “extended metaphors” or “songwriting” or “songs,” which are the types of things that acoustic guitars are well-suited for (as opposed to electric ones, which are suited for noodling, shredding, and Boris). This all pretty much rules out the chances of me ever becoming a dickstrong guitarron, but whatever. I have no idea where the whole thing started. When I first bought it I only listened to punk, and then after that I was into like techno, and then I got really into rap, and now I only like Herbie Hancock. Newsflash, Clay: you can’t play any of that shit on acoustic guitar! And while I’ve got some acousticy guitarish soft spots—oh, Dylan, Drake, Smith, you know—they’re ones you know because they’re universal soft spots.
Here, however, are two records that treat the acoustic guitar not as a foundation or element in music but as its embodiment entirely. And here, against all that proselytizing above, am I recommending them. They are, with some luck, new soft spots we can share. The Dutchess & The Duke are half Dylan, half Jagger, half Burden, half antelope and all derivative, but also tight and strong and fully a beast that breathes the dust of these corpses rather than coughs or attempts evasion of the fumes. The record revels in nostalgia with such glee that we forget to wonder whether nostalgia sucks. The guitar reigns over all within this bleary, lamp-lit carnival, as the groundwork for graceful harmonies (“Armageddon Song”) and as the sole source of percussive variation (loping and leaping “Back To Me”). These are “song” songs, with refrains and outros and verses and everything, and about as much fun as such things get. It’s like the White Stripes were still a fun anachronism (and not a bloated shitmonster) and this is the album of “Hotel Yorba”s we knew lurked within. “Out Of Time,” for example, treats a major-minor chord progression on the chorus like it’s the new Clipse single, easing into the easy verses eyes wild and high on ecstatic musical invention.
On the diametric opposite end of the musical spectrum, brooding Boduf Songs wishes beyond a dying hope that it were the blackest black metal record ever. Shit is severe: hissing black cover of monoliths and sorrowful woodwork, with expository track titles like “Things Not To Be Done On the Sabbath” or “Last Glimmer on a Hill at Dusk.” It is, to its own immortal credit, not the Burzum to which it aspires. It is rather poised somewhere at the intersection of Labradford and Iron & Wine, miraculously without sounding much at all like Six Organs of Admittance. Soft-plucked guitars work as drone over cooed vocals, all sad sighs and quick warm breaths but lovely, baleful stuff. Other sounds pop from this murky setting like fireworks through fog, like the lonely chimes cawing over “I Can’t See a Thing in Here” or the ambient burr of, ahem, “Pitiful Shadow Engulfed in Darkness.” Get over it: the record is an odd duck but a fascinating one—and halfway through “Quiet When Group” comes one of the most sublime moments of any record released this year.
This intensity is a function of the juxtaposition between sanguine (boring) acoustic guitar and an adventurous musical spirit, inspired by a deep internal despair but pursuing its actualization down a path toward some pastoral beauty. The Dutchess & The Duke, meanwhile, are animated from somewhere else, but the whole cobbling together of these record reviews is an illustration of the power of inspiration. Fuck how dolely She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke apes its predecessors; if only this month and on this album, the band sounds ferociously aware of the limitations it sets for itself and occupies that small space with absolute authority. If only in miniature, these two records are examples of what happens when artists are excited by the work they find themselves creating.
I mean, I’d still rather hear a kickass flute solo, but whatever.