Reviewed: The Dodos’ Time to Die

It still ain’t broke.




San Francisco duo turned trio The Dodos’ third album Time to Die (out digitally July 28 and physically September 15) is not a departure from the course set by their previous two, and this is mostly a good thing. The crew chooses to keep the guitar and drums largely acoustic, there’s still hardly any (noticeable) bass, and there may be even fewer effects on the vocals and guitars.  Still, this is a logical if small step forward from an already great band.

You might wonder how much interesting music a band can make with basically just an acoustic guitar, vocals and some drums, but the songs are nearly always strong and their music is subtly diverse.  Song structures are generally unpredictable and each of the two primary members incorporates blues, folk and african polyrhythms into his playing.  Even with such limited instrumentation, if you really pay attention, by the time you get to the last strums of the title track you’ll still get that feeling that you went somewhere.

Besides, dudes can play.  He may look like a boy, but when I say Meric Long’s a rhythm guitarist I mean Meric Long is a rhythm guitarist, (in this case finger style) and one of the finest in indie rock.  Similarly, Logan Kroeber plays drums of all kinds with a pretty uncommon ferocity that you’re not likely to appreciate unless you’ve seen them live.  As the band’s newest member Keaton Snyder is, well, just fine.  His vibraphone makes a nice-enough ornament.

The dominant lyrical theme seems to be the corporatization of modern society, but, really, don’t focus on the lyrics.  I think it was Jeff Tweedy who suggested that the best pop music comes when you write and sing what you feel not what you think (which is also why I think love songs tend to make the best songs, because they get at what our emotions are really obsessing over down there, but ANYWAYS), and certainly with some lyrics here, such as on “This is a Business”, “The Strums” and “Longform”, The Dodos once again fall into a trap of over-intellectualizing (remember “God?”).

Perhaps this is why the best and most accessible songs on here tend to be the ones in which the lyrics don’t seem to make any coherent sense at all: in particular, “Two Medicines” and “Fables.” Still, when the melodies are profound and nicely framed, the lyrics can feel profound too (ever notice how teens like to quote nonsense as long as it’s from a nice Coldplay song?), which is really much more important.

In the end the biggest improvement comes from veteran indie-pop producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, The Shins, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes), who polishes and balances the mix nicely and adds a few more tracks on the vocal harmonies.  I’m still curious to hear if it’d work for them to turn up the drums, but maybe that’s something that only works for them live.

We all know that even when it ain’t broke it’s more exciting to hear something new.  That said, this ain’t broke.


The Dodos – Fables
The Dodos – Two Medicines

Disclaimer: These songs are up for listening purposes only for a short time. If you’re an artist or label who wants the song taken down, please write me.


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