The Dodos Time to Die

[Frenchkiss; 2009]

Styles: Pacific-Northwest indie-pop
Others: the bands who appeared on the soundtracks to {The OC} that you liked {before} that show

Underneath the pointless Animal Collective comparisons, musings about musical appropriation, and overuses of the word “strummy,” what truly separated The Dodos’ 2008 breakout release Visiter from the rest of the pack were the melodies. Its most poignant moments (“Fools,” “Ashley,” “God”) utilized bandleader Meric Long’s warm vocal range as more of a tool than a gimmick. Good thing, too, since that record’s more shtick-y moments (“Paint The Rust,” “Joe’s Waltz”) felt too much like they were showing off rather than evolving their craft.

A year later, Long and percussionist Logan Kroeber have hooked up with a vibraphonist (Keaton Snyder) and a biggish-name producer (Phil Ek) for their precipice-standing third album, Time to Die, which takes their sound a step further in the direction of sweet, sincere melodies and big-statement indie rock, and a step away from OCD-showmanship and complex time signatures.

For The Dodos, accessibility doesn’t equal compromise, since these guys were already plenty appealing to indie aesthetes and pop purveyors alike; “Fools” was in a beer commercial, for Christ’s sake. So the big accessible 'push' behind Time to Die is less a gamble than a logical extension of Visiter’s more crowd-pleasing moments.

It’s rewarding. In the current musical climate of lo-fi, no-fi, and glo-fi, there hasn’t been much in the way of simply enjoyable indie rock. The lockstep guitars and breezy tones of opener “Small Deaths” are pure pleasure, and the epic stretches of anthems that make up “Longform” are earworms that never leave. Later on, “Troll Nacht” begins as a tossed-off fingerpicking tune before melting into Long’s most naked crooning and passionate guitar figures.

Better still, the band's free jazz/African drumming/metal-trained instrumental techniques come across organic and unforced. Witness the XTC-influenced polyrhythms of “This Is A Business” and “Two Medicines,” and the slowly-stirred stew of album closer “A Time To Die,” which adds and overlaps patterns and melodies, forming a sinewy but strong song structure.

If there’s one area where Time to Die stumbles, it’s in the lyrics, which weren't really The Dodos’ strong point to begin with. (See: the use of the word “retarded” in Visiter’s “Park Song”). As a songwriter, Long traffics in half-formed aphorisms and meaningless meanings, resulting in a hit-or-miss lyrical formula. The admonishments of “Two Medicines” (“You keep their letters/ You’re never going to write/ You feel nothing”) are potent, while the bizarre ramblings about rebellion and murder in “The Strums” are near-laughable in their forced anarchic attitudes.

But, again, the key to The Dodos isn’t their lyrics, but their melodies. And on Time to Die, they’re strong and sufficient. If this band remains so easily likable, their longevity is secured. If not, there’s always a market for experienced instrumentalists in prog-rock.

1. Small Deaths
2. Longform
3. Fables
4. The Strums
5. This Is A Business
6. Two Medicines
7. Troll Nacht
8. Acorn Factory
9. Time To Die

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