There’s a kind of kismet to the joining of The D.O.T.’s two halves. Both artists’, rapper Mike Skinner and rock vocalist Rob Harvey, career paths parallel attractively, with Skinner’s alias as The Streets and Harvey’s band The Music initially forming in 2002 and summarily coming to their respective conclusions in 2011. Skinner’s final album, ‘Computers and Blues,’ gave the world its first taste of these two go-great-together flavors, as Harvey contributed to the songs “Soldiers” and, to greater effect, “Going Through Hell.” It must have been creative love at first sight, as Skinner and Harvey wasted no time following that album’s completion before heading off together to form The D.O.T. in 2012, and producing a debut album that was as full of surprises and promise as it was genuinely great.
‘Diary,’ obviously, is not that album. Part of what makes last year’s ‘And That’ such a prototypical example of a great debut is that it is constantly awash in the sense of talented artists delighting in all the ways their styles can contribute to and bounce off each other. Released just over six months later, ‘Diary’ runs the risk of spreading The D.O.T.’s synthesis of rap production and pop/rock structure too thin too soon. It’s easy to look back on the days of bands like The Ramones, whose early years saw a similarly robust release schedule, and assume that modern musicians are comparatively more lax in their artistic drives. Rather, it’s more a testament to many artists’commitment to their craft (as well as the evolving importance of touring in today’s music industry) that albums can have 3+ year gestation periods, and while ‘Diary’ doesn’t sound rushed in any way, it does serve as perhaps a signal to Mike and Rob to relax and slow down for a while.
Things start off strong, granted, and seem only to get better throughout’Diary’s’ front half. In fact, it bears much more the markings of a debut piece than ‘And That,’ with the quick, gauntlet throwing “Make It Your Own” setting the stage for “Don’t Look at the Road’s” earnest ballad about the reckless yet crucial spirit of new, risky endeavors:
Just because you’re talking
Doesn’t mean I have to listen
You’re not making much sense to me
Why when I don’t look at the road
Feel sick to my toes
I feel much better with my eyes closed
These risks pay off big time with ‘Diary’s’ lead single, “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” a soothing, laid back tune that espouses wistful romantic longing over a hard-learned sense of experience. Said wistfulness is a persistent trait throughout the album, suggesting the title, ‘Diary,’ was intended as a tip that this would be a more personal work for Skinner and Harvey. “How We All Lie” is a bouncy yet melancholy meditation on empathy, while “Under a Ladder” sees Mike taking over the vocals, his inherent earnestness lending depth to the longing for deeper human understanding.
The duo kick things up a notch from here, with “Makers Mark” and “Left Alone” being the first real dance songs at ‘Diary’s’ disposal. “Left Alone” is easily the best of said offerings, though “Wherever You May Be” is a quirky left-hook, all cheap synths and Skinner’s purposefully under-powered vocals contrasting with Harvey’s usual, affecting nasal falsetto. In the midst of all this, one can find “Left at the Lights,” a lyrically underwhelming ballad that all the same is perhaps ‘Diary’s’ last great blast of heartfelt, soulful production.
So ‘Diary’ is left to close out with its most underwhelming tracks: none of them really all that bad, but also failing to offer that spark present in earlier songs. Truth be told, there’s enough good here to perhaps make any earlier critiques come off as overly harsh, but it’s worth being critical when an act has as much potential as The D.O.T. From here, Skinner and Harvey are entitled to a nice rest before their next album; with some time to breath, I’m sure The D.O.T. will come back to us firing on all cylinders.