“Two Doves,” from the Projectors’ 2009 album Bitte Orca, has a subtle, compact, unconventional musical structure. Along with a string section, the key of F# opens the song and punctuates the form at important points at different levels of relative strength (indicated in the lyrics with an asterisk); see if you can hear how each return to F# major provides a brief respite from the shimmering, somewhat volatile chord changes that surround it.
All the way through the song, the strings provide the emotional backdrop to the singer’s words, while the guitar remains steadfast, constant in the face of conflict and turbulence. The guitar motors along diligently the whole time, giving the song its only real rhythmic action. Perhaps it is too simple to say that the strings are the female voice and the guitar is the male, but I believe it is fair to say there is three-way dialogue going on between the singer, the guitar and the strings. They interact with each other in ways I am only beginning to get a handle on.
Each of the first two verses splits roughly into two halves followed by a short chorus (“Call on me, call on me, call on me”). The first verse is “symmetrical,” meaning the second half repeats the music of the first with new words. Melodically, the singer leaps unpredictably all over the place with the first two lines (“Geranium kisser / Skin like silk and face like glass”) only to come back down to earth with a step-wise melody for the third (“Don’t confront me with my failures”). What is interesting at this point is that the arrival of the first “rest stop” (after “failures”) surprises us; we expect continuation, but we suddenly get the stable F# major chord (at the first asterisk). We want more, but after dropping this haiku-like thought (“Don’t confront me with your failures”), she is done: The confrontation, whatever it is about, ends there; the strings punctuate her statement, and the obedient, motoring guitar obliges her with an F# major chord.
The second half of the first verse (“Kiss me with your mouth open / For your love, better than wine”) gets back to the kissing. The strings are slightly more active here than previously, and the second resting point (after “fragrant”) is a little weaker, allowing for the stronger conclusion after the refrain (“call on me, call on me, call on me”). The leaps in the melody now are even more dramatic, but the lush strings and non-threatening harmonic accompaniment in the guitar lead to a satisfying close to the section.
Verse two follows a similar pattern, again with the idea of “failure” ending its first half. The narrator shows the chamber where her parents conceived her to the object of her sexual desire. It’s interesting how composer David Longstreth casually tosses references to family, youth and conception, concepts that do not often mingle comfortably together, into the mix. (After spending the day with her family, young lovers have to sleep somewhere, right?)
In verse three, the “geranium kisser” of verse one becomes a “geranium killer.” Here, the symmetrical formal pattern of the first two verses finally breaks down. Rationality, with which the singer played fast and loose throughout the song only to be brought into line unexpectedly, is tossed out the window: what was previously a single “half” of a verse is extended, and even given its own strong, conclusive resting place (after “never-ending,” ironically). The strings go haywire in this verse as well, but the steadfast guitar motors along, unfazed. Longstreth extends the final refrain long enough to contain some extra “thoughts” expressed by the strings.
“Two Doves” is full of delicious little details, such as the diminished triad outlined by the melody in each verse (at “kisser,” “an eagle” and “killer” in verses one, two and three respectively). Notice, finally, how “Two Doves” calls to mind an obscure 1967 Nico song called “The Fairest of the Seasons” (written by Jackson Browne), also in F# major, featured and introduced to the public at large in The Royal Tenenbaums, a Wes Anderson movie similarly full of family, sex, youth, and conflict. (I would venture to say that the similarity was not an accident.)
“Two Doves” Lyrics (so you can sing along):
1st half: Geranium kisser / Skin like silk and face like glass /
Don’t confront me with my failures // (*strong/strings)
2nd half: Kiss me with your mouth open / For your love, better than wine /
For your cologne is really fragrant // (*weak)
Refrain: Call on me, call on me, call on me * (very strong)
1st half: Your hair is like an eagle / Your two eyes are like two doves /
But our bed is like a failure // (*strong/strings)
2nd half: All day up in the family / At the waning of the light /
To the chamber that conceived me // (*weak)
Refrain: Call on me, call on me, call on me (*strong)
Extended 1st half: Geranium killer / Throat of soil and mind like stone /
Please don’t defend a silver lining / Around the halo of what is already shining /
When all the planets are aligning / For an afternoon that’s never ending // (*very strong)
Call on me, call on me, call on me (*strong)