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The Dutchess and the Duke - Sunset / Sunrise

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Artist: The Dutchess and the Duke

Album: Sunset / Sunrise

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Oct. 5, 2009


The Dutchess and the Duke - "Hands" (Sunset / Sunrise)


At best, Dutchess and the Duke’s Sunset / Sunrise is a record of deep regret. The beersy buddy campfire songs of their debut album have given way to a much starker reality, possessed of a revelatory sobriety that only comes after the fun drunk starts to fade away. “The sun comes up / I’m counting the days I got left” are the first words of opener “Hands.” The vibe is immediately different. Cocksucker blues have been replaced by Zombies dirges. A total downer, it’s more of an ending than a starter, like beginning a movie with the famous scene from Shane.

They try to shake the harshed mellow a few times, but mostly with ambivalent results. R&B-inflected heartbeakers “When You Leave My Arms” and “I Don’t Feel Anything” try their hardest at Modern Sounds-era Ray Charles, but come off like high school dance also-rans. And the forced tambourine sing-along of “Let It Die” just doesn’t compute with the overall sentiment. It’s much better when they stick to the spooky fugue state on “Sunrise / Sunset,” complete with cartoon creepy groaning in the background and the threat of losing your soul.

This unrest doesn’t come out of nowhere. “I Am Just a Ghost” helped wind down their first record with a jarring, dissonant, fade-to-black that was the real armageddon song on She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke. After that, the Hozac single took things straight back-to-basics. “Never Had a Chance” and B-side “Scorpio” were ripped straight from the basement tapes, splitting the difference between a moonshining Dylan and a candidly frank Jagger. No clouds around these songs: just a couple of fast, raucous one-takes that seemed to put the duo back in greener pastures

That’s why it’s so surprising to hear what a little less speed and a little more fiddle do to both songs. They’ve cooled off considerably, with “Scorpio” dripping with the kind of sentimental longing reserved for Gold Rush period-piece romances. “Never Had a Chance” retains a little bit of its swagger, but it essentially becomes the backbone for the whole record: “We could’ve been together / could’ve slept under the stars, girl, with the rain soaking our bones / could’ve got our kicks together/ could’ve got fucked up together / could’ve lived and died together / all alone,” the Duke sings, and so provides Sunset / Sunrise with a suitable little abstract.

These songs root around in dread and despair to the point of no return. Like the new Spider Bags, the fun seems to be slowly bleeding away. Not that it makes them any less catchy. The Seventh Seal said it best: “They dance away from the dawn and it’s a solemn dance towards the dark lands.”

By Evan Hanlon

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