Polyvinyl Records, 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
The Dodos may not be the most familiar band to the average American, but, contrary to what some people think – that fame and selling a lot of records, at least not since the early 70s/late ’60s, when even the “major labels”, which is all there was back then, for the most part, were run by music people, not greedy business people who only care about selling product. Nowadays, though, things are so different: you have to build your image and sound around some targeted demographic, i.e. “boy bands”, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber (ugh) and, well, you get the picture. Talent and solid artwork that is made, not to sell widgets to teens, but to chisel a granite sculpture that doesn’t disintegrate or oxidize but, rather, in ten years, at least, will still be remembered and not sound nostalgic. I could name several great examples of what I’m writing about here, but I think you get the picture.
That’s why qualified music critics, in fact, critics going back hundreds of years to earlier literary criticism, social critiques and so on, can be important arbiters and pathways to what, after reading a cogent argument, are fine points to argue that, to people who are hungry for more than banal, saccharine sideshows that fill one’s head with apathy and a homogeneous looped track of beats and hooks that are almost metaphors for the unoriginality and follow-the-leader attitude of much of Americans today.
It’s in this vein that I want to trot out the Dodos. These guys are part of that rare breed that make it seem easy. They put together, with a lot of finesse, poetics and straight-up musical talent, albums that transcend simple labels which are usually products of lazy, derivative pop schlock. And, in another corner, you have theatrical manques who think that artistic novelty – over-the-top shock, carnival-like circus sideshows with guitars and drums which, in maybe one in a thousand acts, turn out to be silly, goofy stuff that only works when the bright lights and floor shows are carrying the music. I’ve found that one important definition of a song that can be a timeless and unforgettable one is a tune that can be just as compelling whether it’s backed by a “full” rock band or whether it’s just done by one guy with an acoustic guitar and maybe a harmonica and perhaps a tambourine or a couple bongos.
This brings me to The Dodos. They’re new album, number five in their discography, Carrier is another in a line of wonderfully-written songs. It, necessarily, can’t stay static, style-wise, forever, which is why a lot of hardcore Dodos fans may not recognize this as being a “typical” Dodos release. But, hey, this isn’t a static world. Things change, people grow, artists, whether musical, literary, painting, sculpting, etc, don’t want to stamp out the same thing over and over and especially, after one gets to reflecting on what they’re doing, realize that you can’t just ride the wave of what you’re expected to do forever, fans are fickle – they might love what you’ve been doing so far, but what happens when a new band comes out that isn’t that different from you but tweaks a few things and then – whammo – you’re bumped back to state fairs, etc. So, a new path was taken on Carrier. This is a more focused album. The environment of Carrier is immersed in whispered, fluffy, white clouds of atmospherics and a hushed, but meaningful vocals, singing electric lyrics.
One very meaningful thing that affects this album is the fact that The Dodos most recent addition, guitarist Chris Weimer, ex-Women axe slinger, died at the very young age of 26 in 2012. He had just joined The Dodos a year earlier, in 2011. Even though he isn’t featured on Carrier, Weimer’s influence and input haunts the new album. Weimer was a Canadian – a native of Calgary, who joined forces with The Dodos who call The Bay Area (the greatest place on earth) home.
Some of what I’ve read regarding Carrier so far has a problem with the beginning of the album, for instance, the opening track, “Transformer”, which, for me, was a perfectly fitting song. Other tracks that stood out including “Substance”, “Relief”, “Family” and “Destroyer”. All oceanic movements – calm seas of textures, swaying back from crest to trough.
The two other principals of The Dodos, singer-songwriter, Meric Long and percussionist Logan Kroeber are still going strong. As the saying goes, “The show must go on…” and so it shall. We all miss you, Chris Weimer. RIP.
To be honest, I’m really not that familiar with The Dodos, except that their name and reputation precede them, but I’ve not been exposed to their older, beginning stages and I really wish I was. It would make it so much easier to compare Carrier with what they’ve done in the past. But, going by what I’ve read from others, I’ve gotten the notion that they’re a creative force – hell, they’re from the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, where the head-on collisions of cultures – whether it be gastronomic, musical, performance art, etc. It is one of the most iconoclast-friendly places around and it’s no wonder that a lot of eras blossomed there – one need look back to the 1960s, for a good example: look at all the great music that came out of that relatively geographically small city, where neighborhoods abut each other, sometimes overlapping them, like North Beach’s proximity to Chinatown.
Keep your eyes out for The Dodos to come to a town near you in the near future. I’ve always thought that the best way to really judge a band’s quality is to see how they match up on stage versus their work in the studio.
I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard, which is making me ‘curiouser and curiouser’ and am tempted to seek out the beginnings of The Dodos. If you are not one of the main fan base, I suggest you do the same.near future. I’ve always thought that the best way to really judge a band’s quality is to see how they match up on stage versus their work in the studio.