My initial plan this week was to unpack several local music updates, and I promise to share many of them soon enough, but in the meantime, I need all the space I can get to tell you about Portland duo Dove Pax.
With big, lush vocals, layers of effects and an overall swoon-worthy sound, Dove Pax sure has my attention.
The band is married couple Jessica and Ryan Richards, and as Dove Pax, they released their debut EP “A Sense of Hope” on the winter solstice (Dec. 21).
The musicians met when they were both living in Shanghai. Jessica, originally from Paris, had moved to China in 2002 as a performer/singer at a French cabaret and stayed for 13 years, performing all over Asia and working as a composer, sound designer and music producer. Ryan, a Portland native, got there in 2008 to learn Chinese language and experience modern Chinese culture. Initially an English instructor, he moved into teaching and performing music, along with working in recording studios as an engineer. It was in one of these studios where they met and started to collaborate with each other’s band and write songs together.
They became friends, fell in love, got married and moved to Maine in 2015. Although they had songs they wanted to develop, the priority at the time was to raise their son and get settled into life in the US. A recording studio was built over several years of purchasing equipment and getting the space acoustically ready. Their son, Oscar, is now 11.
The couple’s primary musical influences come from the long form epics of classic rock (Queen, Bowie, Heart), French impressionist harmonies (Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Ravel), West African folk grooves (Bassekou Kouyate, Oumou Sangaré), and what they described as the intricate sonic palette of Radiohead and the memorable hooks of Coldplay.
As for the band name, that’s easily explained. The dove is a messenger of peace and, in Latin, pax means peace, and Pax is also the Roman goddess of peace. It’s also the name of the music production business they run out of a Portland studio, where they mostly do commercial work.
The Richards describe the EP as “a four-song suite about striving for the wisdom to stay positive and hopeful in these times of global crisis.”
The release date was intentional because the duo considers the winter solstice to be the “pivotal moment when light is reborn out of the darkest days of the year.”
The Richards said that their goal with “A Sense of Hope” is to remind listeners that “no matter how dark the storms in our lives can become, there’s always a way to find hope by learning how to see problems as opportunities for growth.”
That’s a life lesson I can get behind, especially since it’s packaged in four sumptuous tracks.
Jessica sings and plays piano synth and bass. Ryan plays guitar, bass and keys. On the EP, John O’Reilly Jr. plays drums. The Richards produced and mixed the EP in their Portland studio.
It opens with “When the Storm Comes,” and Jessica’s vocals are striking and vigorous as she sings, “Weather, winds are changing/Rearranging what is sacred.” Two days after its release, life sure did imitate art, as that pre-Christmas storm reminded Mainers all too well how much damage the wind can do. The song, however, isn’t bleak, but speaks of perseverance. “When the storm comes, we’ll sing this song, to bring us along.” There’s a mesmerizing feel to it as keys and synths, along with drums, guitar and the sound of rainfall, swirl around her voice.
The journey continues with “Better Way.” “Compassion can’t be bought or sold, can’t put a price tag on our spiritual need to be whole,” sings Jessica before diving into the refrain of “It’s time to find a better way, look inside to become awake.” There’s moments of ’80s alternative in the track but also a fresh vibrancy to it with electric guitar urgency.
“The Whole in the Part” starts with an almost operatic vocal sound from Jessica before she starts to sing the lines, “Our night is bright, we’re not afraid of the dark.” Like the ones before it, this song is a tapestry of scintillating aural moments.
The title track has the most tender version of Jessica’s voice as she wonders aloud: “The trouble of our times, make me wanna know, how can I do what’s right?” But after the initial quietness of the song, it blossoms like a flower, each petal a layer of sound from percussion to bass and synths. Her vocals are a sunrise. As the song moves along, it becomes bolder and brighter before retreating back into itself for a soft landing.
The Richards estimate they have enough material to fill four albums and they expect to release a full length one in the late spring or early summer of this year.
You can find “A Sense of Hope” digitally at dovepax.com and on streaming platforms.
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