TIME TO DIE
French Kiss Records, 2009
First impressions are everything…yet, they are not based in reality because they draw expectation from past experiences. Needless to say, after spending hours of my time last year listening to the Dodos first two records, savoring their endearing lyrics and jumpy acoustic psych-folk as I looked out the rain splattered windows of the MAX on my commute into downtown Portland, I was ecstatic to find out they were releasing a brand new record so soon. Sonically, these guys were my best friends and I was happy to let them into my home so soon after they had departed from my I-Pod collection.
At times, the Dodos warrant folksy behavior, so naturally, I sat on my front porch to give the Dodos third record, Time To Die, a listen.
First, let’s discuss how hot the cover art is. Such a cover is the reason why I love to buy vinyl: you get to have it BIG! I have considered mounting this piece on my wall. I love the color arrangements that look like an explosion of autumn confetti.
Last year, the band scored a monetary load with a song off of their sophomore album entitled “Fools”. The tune was featured in a Bud Lite (now with a hint of lime!) television commercial. Now, now, don’t write the Dodos off as sellouts and run from them clutching your micro-brew in disgust quite yet… Sometimes a band has to do what a band has to do to get by these days!!!
Plus, the Dodos invested their money in something worthwhile. Instead of spending their wad on fancy cars or parties the band put it towards their dream instrument: a vibraphone….
In it’s essence, the vibraphone seems typical for a band like the Dodos to choose. Known for their intimate compression of inventive percussion and impeccable melody, it seems only natural for the band to choose an instrument that represents a marriage of this concept.
But enough about the Dodos dirty laundry! Let’s talk about the new record, Time To Die. Track by track.
SMALL DEATHS: The opening track “Small Deaths” begins with the comfortably familiar loose finger picked guitar Meric Long has used to soften the fall of his sing song anthems in the Dodos past releases. Sure enough, Logan Kroeber kicks in with slamming drums that seem to encompass technicality with a punching folksy nod to 80’s slam dance anthems. This time around, Kroeber’s set seems to be brightened up – possibly due to the touches of producer Phil Ek (The Shins, Fleet Foxes). Midway, new member, Keaton Snyder, exotically clammers at the vibes adding a metallic psychedelic flair challenging the drums at a duel before all percussive elements drops silent to Long’s guitar only to begin the build up again and again.
LONGFORM: I feel like I’ve heard the start of this melody in past Dodos songs. This happens often I have found, however, it is easy to ignore when each song is so good. Many bands are accused of having a niche style or one hit wonder. While this isn’t always the case when discussing the Dodo’s heavy rhythmic vs acoustic mind fuck how could one persecute a song that is so effing good despite the similarities to past work? Energy is a unique stand alone experience.
FABLES: Not knowing too much about this album, upon my first listen, I would guess that this song would be an appropriate choice for the first hit single. It’s fluid and accessible drum sequence remains simple and propels Meric Long and Logan Kroeber on a joyride that would probably loop in a few sensitive bros slapping each others backs in approval satisfying their access into a band that is greater than their commercial tango with Bud Lite. It’s a cute indie folk-pop tune but I’m hoping the “wrong type of dudes” won’t be drawn into the equation at the Dodos next show.
THE STRUMS: “This Band Will Change Your Life”. Oh praise the famous line said by Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State… a movie that shot The Shins career into the the mainstream indie atmosphere in that memorable scene in the waiting room of a New Jersey clinic. The Dodos had written this song five years ago they would have been neck in neck with the Shins for such a prime time spot. In fact – The Shins former producer Phil Ek, teamed up with The Dodos on Time To Die. The headphones would come off Zack Braff’s head after the endearing horn section and he would have turned to Natalie Portman’s character and nodded knowingly that yes, the song would change his life because the Dodos had introduced them to each other.
THIS IS A BUSINESS: What makes a band a successful business (perhaps moderately selling out to Bud Lite? ha!)…touring endlessly sleeping on floors… business suits exchanged for the rugged t-shirt or repetitive costume worn night after night. The only way of life. Saying you don’t need anybody as long as people need you. How does that work season after season? Emotions at their wits end. YOUR FRIENDS ARE THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY you may meet some locals. No city will be like another city. MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES. The Dodos seem to bring these concepts to the table in this mildly somber yet upbeat driving tune. Definitely punk in spirit as their sonic engine roars yet never overheats.
TWO MEDICINES: Meric Long’s opening vocal ensemble seem to represent the many voices turning people towards psychiatric drugs they think they need. Heartache never really hurts when you have some meds or vice to pass the time so your conscious never speaks the evils they hold under their breath. Long’s prescribed depression aids his words “You feel nothing at all / Built an army that will never fight / It’s like an opera just singing about yourself.” The vibraphone’s downward pins are effective lucid dreaming.
TROLL NACHT: Equal parts introspective sing song melodies and fierce rocking! Just when you thought an electrified vibraphone couldn’t sound like a synth or distorted guitar! See for yourself! Though, I think this song could be equally as powerful if it’s length was cut in half.
ACORN FACTORY: This song recalls much of the Meric-solo songs found on previous records. However, this time Logan joins him stublely with background clicks and rumbles.
TIME TO DIE: Beginning with a beautiful harmonic ring – which I assume is vibraphone player , Keaton Snyder, stroking his instruments edge with a bow meant for a string instrument. Shortly after Meric and Logan come in with stead fast harmony and then turn up the tempo. Meric’s excellent ear for vocal harmony with himself is present within this song. Logan brings out one of his rhythmic tricks keeping a steady pace and accenting with a harsh slapping roll on the snare.
COMPANY (BONUS TRACK): One of the best things about purchasing vinyl is the possibility of receiving little extras…a polite thank you from the record industry for actually purchasing a tangible item. This time around the token of appreciation of the consumer came in the form of a free bonus track from the Dodos called “Company”. Ironically, it may be my favorite new track by the band as it has momentous energy and displays a chemistry between the three members that isn’t quite achieved on any of the album tracks. In the very beginning of the track the trio hammers away as one, stopping for split seconds just to prove they’re tight. Meric Long strums furiously at a mildly distorted acoustic guitar and harmonizes perfectly in time with himself as Logan Kroeber thunders away on his drum kit in an inventive fashion. New member, Keaton Snyder, is also very present in this tune using his vibraphone to sustain melodic rings. If I was the producer of this album I would have suggested it as the opening track of the album to get things started with a bang! Actual opening track, “Small Deaths”, follows nicely.
photos from Brooklyn Vegan
All in all, like many of The Dodos’ past works, the tunes on Time To Die begin to sound synonymous – or shall I put it nicely and say – rather meld together in their form. This record is fairly more accessible to the general public as it takes notes from more traditional songwriting techniques and production. Besides the possibility of reeling in a new mainstream audience from last year’s Bud Lite commercial, longterm fans may be disappointed in Logan Kroeber’s beats this time around. In past works, Kroeber seemed to be an integeral ingredient to the Dodos avante-guard folk status providing thought provoking and inventive rhytems that set the band apart from others. However, this time around his work suggests that he is sitting back and taking it easy with predictable – yet hard hitting – rhythemic choices. In addition, Meric Long’s simplistic lyrical achievements have been more notable on past records. Perhaps all of this is due to the short lapse of time since their stellar sophomore hit, Visiter. Oh the pressure of following up such a gleaming gem!
Another thing to consider is this record was written in a frenzy – perhaps in order to keep the band’s momentum above ground. The Dodos have always been a band who seem to set themselves apart from other bands in the sea of white guys playing rock music. Maybe this time around they wanted to be part of the club – thus hiring Phil Ek to produce this record. Even though they are taking a creative leap by adding an atypical instrument as odd as a vibraphone the addition isn’t always fully present and sometimes the songs fall back on the sweet lull of mediocrity. Though this may be a good thing. Perhaps the listener needn’t have their head rattled with wiley-eyed psych-acoustic clammers and thoughtful lyrics that make them question the life around them and should be allowed to relax with a Bud Light on the porch and just chillllllllll to some good tunes.
Overall, Time To Die, is an excellent aim at the indie mainstream and I like it more and more each time I listen to it. As the season changes I expect it will continue to grow on me as the crisp cool air blows rattling dead leaves to the ground. I certainly hope the title doesn’t foreshadow the future of The Dodos as I am looking forward to what they create next.