Something of an oddity -- though not entirely incongruous -- among Labrador Records' stable of sun-kissed Swedish indie poppers, Douglas Heart pursue a subtler, more subdued form of beauty and sweetness. Though their style has continued to evolve over several incarnations, their defining sound, as heard on their self-titled debut, marries the glacial, spacious swoon of shoegaze with a calm, meditative clarity, gentle country inflections, and a keen melodic sensibility filtered through Malin Dahlberg's distinctively limpid vocals, not unlike Mazzy Star or a humbler, rootsier Sigur Rós. They started as an offshoot of the noise pop/shoegaze band Standing Pales, when the group's two principal songwriters, Dahlberg and guitarist Pontus Wallgren, decided to cut back the distortion and focus on simpler, quieter songs with a more intimate presentation. Naming themselves Hal Blaine, after the legendary American session drummer, the duo spent several months recording tapes in Wallgren's bedroom, primarily of guitar, bass, and vocals with synthesized organ and drums courtesy of a small Casio keyboard.
A demo session in an actual studio led to the inclusion of two more electronically oriented songs on Labrador's Kingsize compilation in 2001, by which time the group had changed its name to Douglas Heart in order to avoid confusion (and perhaps disgrace by association) with the original Hal Blaine's novelty solo recordings. As Dahlberg and Wallgren prepared to record their first full-length album, they began playing live with three friends -- drummer Max Sjöholm, bassist Daniel Brandt, and organist Ramo Spatalovic -- who soon joined the lineup permanently, contributing to the warmer, fuller sound of the self-titled debut (released in 2003) that the band co-produced with Björn Olsson of Union Carbide Productions, Spain, and the Soundtrack of Our Lives. I Could See the Smallest Things, an EP of new songs with a louder, rockier bent, followed in 2004, and Sjöholm and Wallgren also released an energetic fuzz pop single on Labrador under the moniker Afraid of Stairs, but the band parted ways with the label sometime thereafter, though it continued working toward a second album in this new, noisier vein. ~ K. Ross Hoffman