Dolour – Suburbiac


There’s a note on the spine of Suburbiac that warns, “Dolour – That is the band name – Well, it’s not really a band, it’s just one guy.” Considering the remarkable quality of this album, that in and of itself is impressive. The feat takes more weight when it’s taken into consideration that ‘just one guy,’ Shane Tutmarc, is barely old enough to drink, and that this is Dolour’s second full-length release in two years. The man brings quality and quantity, and all at such a young age. Oh, how I envy the musically inclined …
Anyhow, Suburbiac is a solid pop record from beginning to end. The songs are catchy and tuneful, regardless of whether they’re piano-driven frolicks, lazy summer day ballads, or straight-up candy-pop rockers. Dolour’s songs somewhat emulate artists like the Beach Boys and the Beatles, though Tutmarc manages to do so in a very modernized manner, giving this project a more contemporary feel than artists such as Gentleman Caller and Apples in Stereo, who tend to lean towards an actual re-creation of 60’s sound quality.
Tutmarc has quite a few different musicians performing with him on Suburbiac, though it must be understood that Dolour is very much a one-man project, as Tutmarc writes all the material and is responsible for most of the instrumentation on the album as well. His lyrics tend to carry a very tongue-in-cheek vibe to them, as he injects a lot of humor and light-heartedness into songs about romance (or lack thereof).
The album opens with a winner in the laid-back trot of “Menage a Trois,” a nice guitar-fueled number enhanced with some trumpet and synth flourishes. The lyrics refer to this poor guy bargaining for the affections of someone with another beau (“I’d take the weekends over the holidays / I could teach him to know his place / Tell me what you saw in your menage a trois”). The album’s title track is a real gem, a three-minute piano romp where Tutmarc vocally implies, “But all you want and all you need costs money / Money! / So let’s make the most of your last 20 dollar bill / And hire a hitman to kill your boyfriend.” All joking aside, however, he gets straight to the point with the biting refrain, “Kissing you is like getting high on someone else’s drugs,” which actually sticks out as a sing-along chorus. The harmonized backing vocals that drag the track to it’s fade are reminscient of old Beach Boys harmonies, a fact that shows Tutmarc wearing his influences on his sleeve in this instance.
“So Done With You” proves that Tutmarc can write a nice, laid-back, straightforward love song, complete with Rhodes organ, a nice keyboard arrangement, and some really nice cello flourishes. “A Billion Odd People” carries a boatload of ‘pep’ courtesy of a vibrant piano-and-bassline combo, although the theremin solo sticks out a bit like a sore thumb in this one. “Iceland” is a thick, dirty, sludgy, painfully catchy ode to falling for a foreign exchange student (“You took off to Iceland and I hit an iceberg”), full of ‘sloppy guitars’ and big synthed-out fake horn sounds. ‘Good’ doesn’t even begin to describe this song.
“Get Yourself Together” is a cute little lull, riding a bed of vibraphone and organ with some wonderfully active basslines backing them. Of course, mid-way through, Tutmarc tosses in a splash of dirty guitars to remind everyone that this is still basically a rock record, after all. Once again, Tutmarc throws in a handful of those Beach Boys-esque self-standing harmony vocals to bridge the middle of the track, and once again, they sound really good. “Highway Hypnosis” is a catchy little electro-pop number (no guitars whatsoever!) that leans more towards NASA than Blur. Still, for what it is, “Hypnosis” is a toe-tapper, thanks in part to the ridiculous sing-along lyrics, “Look out your window / See stars / We’re bumping Jupiter and Mars.”
“Rest Your Head” is another ballad, a lulling number with Tutmarc tossing off some breathy vocals that are accentuated nicely by the cello parts in the song. I won’t even dare to refer to this as ‘soft rock,’ because I feel giving it that stigma would be a disservice to how nice the song really is. “Chasing the Wrong Girl Home” sounds like a ballad with its piano-and-voice intro, but the track spikes with rhythm guitars for the first chorus. In all honesty, the song structure and vocal intonations are akin to Queen, with a few different pace changes added to a few spots where the music stops and lets the vocal track ring out for a stronger effect. The sax-and-synth solo that closes the track out is unexpected, but a nice touch nonetheless. The lyrics relate to getting stuck in a relationship rut (where every relationship becomes the same, only with a different person as the second party), but they tell an oft-told story in a fresh way (“It seems that I’ve been growing tired of chasing the wrong girl home / It’s like I’m barking up the same old trees / It’s the same old things that upset me”).
“Baggage” is a nice acoustic guitar lull that sees Tutmarc showing a bit of an attitude lyrically (“I’m in no position to tell you how to live your life / But I will / And you better see it my way / Or see it no way at all”), though the song itself is quite a relaxing drone. “Too Old for Fantasy” closes the album with a piano-fueled ballad that most obviously shows off Tutmarc’s influences. The vocals and the track itself scream ‘Beatles,’ while the Beach Boy-style harmonies make a brief appearance as backing vocals. Besides the fact that it shows off Tutmarc’s influences very strongly, the only other thing that stands out about this track is the fact that it features Tutmarc’s only obscenity on the record (“Can a day go by without the sharp pain of knowing you’re alive with some other f@%k with some new haircut?”).
Shane Tutmarc’s music carries a lot of parallel to the work of Brendan Benson, as both are influenced heavily by 60’s sounds, though they both use those influences to create wholly contemporary sounding music. Tutmarc, however, veers from Benson in that he uses some much more unconventional instrumentation (mandolin, theremin, strings, woodwinds, synths, keys, and electronic beats and such) to create much more crisp and fleshed out pop music. In the case of Suburbiac, this works masterfully, as Tutmarc manages to wear his influences on his sleeve a bit while keeping Dolour from sounding like a cheap ‘Generation Y’ Beatles or Beach Boys flare-up. Tough work, indeed, but Tutmarc manages to pull it off with style.