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Doris Brendel has had something of a musically eclectic career during the past twenty years. One-time vocalist for the Sony-signed ephemeral alt-rock act The Violet Hour which spawned just one album in 1991, she's since alternated between a solo career and a disparate array of collaborations and session work. However, with the release of a new album under her own name two years ago, 'The Last Adventure', it seems her primary focus has now switched to re-establishing herself as a solo artist. Kind of. The follow-up to her 2010 full-length has arrived in the form of 'Not Utopia' and is billed as a Doris Brendel & Lee Dunham record; a mutual collaboration between the two. While Doris' name is well-established within the alt-rock scene and she's perennially mentioned in biogs and reviews as being "the daughter of famed classical pianist Alfred Brendel", just who is this Lee Dunham guy? Well, keen readers of Metal Discovery and those with a comprehensive knowledge of the metal underground will realise the man in question was guitarist with both Cenobyte and Primary Slave, the latter who were tipped by the likes of Kerrang and Terrorizer to be "the next big thing" to emerge from the UK. That never transpired to be the case and, anyway, that's a whole other story, but here he is showcasing a more heterogeneous side to his musical talents alongside Doris.

So yes, while Doris hasn't gone all metal on us, Lee's introduced a sporadically heavier dimension to her aesthetic. That's only the beginning though. With Doris writing all the music, Lee has skilfully embellished tracks with layers of instrumentation and the resulting music switches and combines genres with refined erratic ease on a mood-driven album that travels a winding road of pathos-infused melancholy, bursts of sonic optimism, and an occasionally darker vibe. Balladic numbers 'Ebay', 'Beyond Words' and 'Thank You' are offset against songs with heavied-up prog passages like 'No Lonely Girl' and 'Passionate Weekend'. Then there's a couple of almost climactic "musical" tracks with 'Conflicted' and 'Kind to be Cruel' as well as the up-tempo electro-pop-rock of 'Going Out' and the title track. Such eclecticism, both within and between songs, is to be praised, particularly when it's executed with as much conviction and skill as it is here.

Being fully aware of Lee's virtuosic fretboard talents, it's nice hear him demonstrating a more restrained side to his playing throughout with acoustic and electric rhythms, leads and licks always fitting for each track's affective essence, albeit there are fleeting moments where he lets rip. Beyond his primary instrument, he also demonstrates himself an adept multi-instrumentalist as he was responsible for bass, synths, drums and mandolin on the album, as well as occasional vocals. And Doris herself is in fine voice with her gruff and soulful rock vocals creating and enhancing the moods and emotions inherent in each of the compositions, excelling over heavy and ambient instrumentations. Production-wise, for which Lee was also responsible, 'Not Utopia' shines too with richly resonant instrumentations that have been mixed to perfection so the different layers sound at one but also with enough clarity to pick out each constituent part. All in all, 'Not Utopia' is exemplary of retro-modern musical eclecticism and comes highly recommended. Be warned though, buy this and hit the play button at your own peril for infectious melodies are abound and hooks that'll be in your head forevermore. Lets's hope these two talented peeps continue their already fruitful collaboration.
Sky Rocket Records
Review by Mark Holmes
1st July 2012
1) No Lonely Girl
2) Ebay
3) Drawing the Line
4) Going Out
5) Passionate Weekend
6) Beyond Words
7) Too Bad to be Good
8) Conflicted; 9) Not Utopia
10) Kind to be Cruel
11) Thank You
12) You're So Not
"...switches and combines genres with refined erratic ease on a mood-driven album that travels a winding road of pathos-infused melancholy, bursts of sonic optimism, and an occasionally darker vibe."