Dolly Varden

Mouthful of Lies

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AllMusic Review by

The first outing by Chicago's Dolly Varden (purportedly a rare species of trout that is notoriously difficult to catch) is its own anomaly in the indie music world. Fronted by marital partners and songwriters Steve Dawson and visual artist Diane Christensen, Dolly Varden walks a line between steely country-rock with two-part harmonies to kill for and dreamy, shimmering, dark-edged pop. DV has certainly spent a lot of time listening to the Everly Brothers, a legion of psych-rock bands, and Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris records, but they've done something with those influences, stretched them to a breaking point; rather than those sounds, they've instead created a hearkening impression that hovers about their music. That's the rub: Dawson, Christensen, and to a lesser extent drummer Matt Thobe write their own songs, full of elliptical imagery (Christensen) and tunneling surrealism, as on "All the Vermeers in New York Can't Save You Now," with Christensen almost whispering the verses until she jumps on top of the cracked guitar scree to offer an offhanded observation about coming undone. Then there's the glorious organ whine in "Not Ashamed," one of the most carefully executed songs of love, vulnerability as strength, and personal brokenness in any genre. The emotion in Dawson's voice when he gets to the refrain is overwhelming as he states his purpose in a stand of tender yet unmistakable strength. In addition, if there is a more beautiful song in indie rock as "Stumbelina," I've yet to hear it. With the acoustic guitars undergirding the vocals, Dawson's protagonist reveals a bitter and tattered truth to its subject with an unflinching honesty and nearly unbearable grace based in a love so pure and tattered, it could only exist in a song. When Christensen joins him on the chorus, the track cracks wide open and a torrent of emotion floods the spare, elegant mix. This is a heck of a debut record, one that is true, hard-earned, and original. Yes, original. That is as high a compliment as I can pay.

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