Cosmic yet intimate, long-gestating and free-flowing, diffuse and centered, Dukes turned toward their immediate sanctum, and a network of friends and colleagues, to realize the vision of Hazel. “Pretty much everything we do is without purpose,” the Dukes admit, in line with their pursuit of joy. But it’s not empty hedonism or passivity at play on Hazel, so much as an expression of freedom. “Why not?” was scribbled on the white frame of the Polaroid documenting their first appearance on Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space many years ago, and it remains their motto, their mantra.
So who is Hazel? Well, Hazel is a tree, or else a color in constant change, thanks to the natural phenomenon that is the Rayleigh scattering of light. “Hazel” is also the song that ushers us into this album’s environment. And just like our world, the Dukes’ world contains multitudes and amalgams, foggy notions and clarity, lightness and darkness. Perhaps to capture an openendedness, or possibility, in the ever-unraveling present of this world, the trio wandered wide and wild to capture everything on Hazel.
True to a surfer’s sense of time (Jones and Lynn are both wave sliders), the Dukes’ first longplayer arrives seven years after the delirious dream of Domino, their debut EP. It was a long, not necessarily strange trip as much as a revelatory journey, with recording sessions taking place from Venice Beach to Sausalito, Mexico City to Minneapolis, Sicily to Berlin (where vocalist Petra calls home), national parks to beachside drifts, with an East Village studio apartment thrown in for good, gritty measure. Each landscape seeps into Hazel and causes the colors to run even more. While making their rounds around the globe, Dukes reached out to friends and fellow travelers and seekers, letting each contributor add a little bit of themselves to the music.
Arp synthesizer runs, patient nylon string guitar fretting, echo-laden sax and flute, suitcase organ, melodica, toy xylophone, and even a fiddle, all gurgle up in the mix and lend to the collective and complete clarity of Hazel’s vision. Hazel can be many shades at once while also refracting into a single hue for the eye’s mind.
Traces of bossa nova and whispered folk mix with the natural ambience that inspired its creation. There are steady throbs like a memory of a night of revelry and bliss, the kind of sonic tingle that evokes headswim or shoegaze. You can also pick out dub and jazz, Afro-cosmic and tropicália, Balearic and Japanese environmental music, spaghetti westerns and dream pop. Or you can just let go of these ideas of taxonomy and genre tags and just let Hazel wash over you. Why not? Ultimately and ineffably, the Dukes evoke sounds of the past while ferrying them into the future, no matter how uncertain tomorrow might seem. It’s a calm for our current, collective mind, bringing us back to center, even if the sounds themselves are happy playing leftfield.
For all of the expert craftsmanship, their thoughtful collaborations, and lysergic titles, Hazel is grounded in nature, a pathway for bare feet to find peace. A portion of proceeds from this release will be donated to Amazon Frontlines, an organization dedicated to supporting the struggles of indigenous peoples to defend their rights to land, life and cultural survival in the Amazon Rainforest.