If Doe’s First Four sounds like it’s from an earlier time, it’s because it is and it isn’t. It’s not exactly a new album, the 13 tracks are actually a compilation of their first four EPs (get it? First Four is the title and it’s the first fou – OK, yeah, everyone got it already.) At the same time, it’s not as old as it sounds – the EPs were released in 2013 and 2014. It packs a lot of ‘90s influence, most notably early Weezer. This London-based indie/punk band likes feminism and is fronted by Nicola Leel, a singer and guitarist who brings some aggression toward the middle of the album. Doe is rounded out by drummer/singer Jake Popyura and guitarist Matt Sykes.
You read that right, this trio has no bassist. Just like Sleater-Kinney, you won’t even miss the bass thanks to low rhythm guitar. “C.A.E.” has a low guitar that make the song dark and angry; perhaps a bass guitar could have taken it to next-level darkness, but it’s not needed. Frankly, if you weren’t thinking about the lack of bass, you might not even notice.
Doe is at their best at their angriest: songs like “Broken Souvenirs” and “Nowhere Girl” have Hole influence and Nicola’s voice takes on more power. Sticking to angry songs could be a game-changer; this deer needs fangs. Frankly, if I was rating an EP of their angrier tracks (“Broken,” “Nowhere,” “Work in Progress,” and “C.A.E,”) their rating would be at least a full point higher. The softer songs like “Swings and Roundabouts” get grating with repetitive backing vocals. I lost count of how many songs include backing vocals that consist of the non-words “da-duh, da-duh” because there were so many (“Regression” sticks out as a major offender.) Stronger backing vocals could be a game-changer for Doe, which become very apparent as Jake takes on a solo on the repetitive “Unrested.” Not great.
I was certain that this album showed the progression of Doe from their first EP through to their latest; I later realized that the tracks aren’t in chronological order. My thinking stemmed from the opening track, “Let Me In,” which sounds like a very early attempt at songwriting. It’s repetitive, muted, and frankly just doesn’t have many lyrics. From there, the songs get more complex, the lyrics get better and more complicated (“C.A.E” is the pinnacle of the complexity, it even seamlessly integrates the word “quantify.”) The lyrics, though at times repetitive, get more heartfelt. “Late Bloomer” and “Work in Progress” are low on self-esteem, high on insecurities and confessions, like the formula for lyrics off of Weezer’s Pinkerton. It mixes well with Nicola’s riot grrl delivery on “Work;” she may be telling you that she’s drowning and is just trying to figure things out, but she’s got an edge that tells you she doesn’t really care what you think about it.
First Four isn’t particularly fresh, they aren’t particularly polished, but they’ve got charm. They’ve got catchy hooks, they can pull off catchy indie pop-punk without a bass, they’ve got a great ‘90s alternative nostalgia factor. Keep in mind that these are the band’s first few EPs, there’s still room to grow. They seem to be on the right track, though.