Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
The other night while listening to some NPR program or whatever, something where the hosts were sitting in a dingy Iowa studio and speaking in their faintly registering, coffee-cradling voices about serious topics, areas of great concern for people who wear their pants a little higher on the hip and who choose to retire to their beds earlier in the night than most normal people. Callers were lighting up the phone lines exasperated with technology. It was the culprit for obesity and laziness. One caller expressed her disdain for technology with a story about a recent trip to Mexico, where there was no cell phone reception, no Internet and no cable TV for a whole week and it was the most relaxing week she'd ever had.
She was going through some remorse-filled stage ever since she returned to her unbearably hectic lifestyle. She was consoled over the air. Times certainly are tough for those who enjoy their isolation and their freedom to whine about everything. Or so that was my take on it when the program was airing, but an afternoon of rather carefree strolling and obligations that would have made taking a four-hour nap in a sunny patch look like the most stressful responsibilities of an air traffic controller, made it seem like the fussy fussers could have a point. There should be more to life than those precious e-mails and continuous feeds of stuff after lump of unending stuff. There walking with headphones on through an early autumn afternoon, temperatures in the mid-50s after a previous day of moody clouds and relentlessly hustling rains that poked and slammed into the loosely hanging red and yellow leaves of the haggard trees, Seattle's The Dutchess & the Duke are much more than a band that can remind us to let it all go.
It's a band that can make us fully appreciate that there is nectar nestling within the palm of every buttercup and tulip, ready to have a straw thrown into it. They remind us of beauty when the gray tones are so visible and are such chatterboxes in lieu of the colors that could get stuck in our teeth or coat our ears like guilty evidence of some pleasure center being hit, being satisfied. The songs are like a steady deployment of sweetener into the bloodstream though it's been enhanced with hard alcohol - it's sugar with whiskey and fructose with scotch. Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison are perfectly aligned vocally on all of the songs on She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke and yet the songs are of wistful things and melancholic afternoons, the residue of better times and yet that residue - like the glaze of frosting hanging on the side of a hand from a morning doughnut - can still be enjoyed later.
Lortz sings of lips and of girls - strangers and those who have again become strangers. There's a pessimistic approach to his grand idea of happiness and it's delightful in a classic pop way. He and Morrison are obviously enamored with The Beatles, but everyone forgets how difficult it is to write as well as the Beatles did and musically, the approach to the Fab Four's sound is one of significant accomplishment. It's a new version of what made that band so influential as it tackles the ideas of shitty days and shittier outlooks with the same kind of aplomb as the Beatles did when they sang about so much teenager fare.
Lortz writes these pretty, blissed out songs of northwestern glum - from the perspective of a luckless dude who probably has a dynamite comic book collection, an ear for any song that ever comes on the radio, a closet full of holey, stained t-shirts and a couch that's had at least five previous owners. He just keeps keeping on and yet the songs that he's able to make with the help of Morrison are worth their weight in sunnier days or the ones like today when everyone and everything else can just disappear as your shoes kick through a four-inch thick layer of discarded leaves that feel as if they were wet clothing getting in your way like always.