Polyvinyl Records, 2015
Reviewed by Kent Manthie
Well, hello all you I.R. readers out there – and a Happy New Year to you all! This particular review, the new album by Bay Area residents, The Dodos and their brand new album, Individ, which is out this month, is going to be the first review written in 2015. And what a great album to start the year off with – a suberb, genre-defying, exciting, full-throttle lunge.
The previous Dodos album, Carrier, was reviewed here, on Independent Review, back on September 1st, 2013. Well, Individ is the follow-up to Carrier. So, just in case you want to either re-familiarize yourself with the band or, if this is your first exposure to them, I’d recommend reading the 9/1/2013 review of Carrier, in which much of their backgrounds and sounds are described (the review for Carrier had the title-heading “Crisp, Clean Shirts”, if that helps in your search through the archives, but just typing in “The Dodos” in the search box, should get you there).
When Carrier was being recorded back in 2013, there were things that shook up the band and forced them to deal with things they couldn’t change and still carry on – for instance, tragically, their previous guitarist, Chris Weimer, who had joined The Dodos, coming from his previous band, Women, died in 2012, before Carrier was completed (before it was even really started, in fact) which had to have affected the rest of the band.
Anyway, also keep in mind that The Dodos are a product of their environment, the Bay Area, one of the best places on earth and, given the relatively small geographic area of San Francisco, itself as well as all the various styles, philosophies, trends and, really, just the eclectic atmosphere in general, when it comes to arts of all kind: whether it be painting, sculpture, etc (“Fine Arts”), or music, writing – be it poetry or prose, things that existed all around the Mecca that is San Francisco, be it down the Peninsula (basically, San Mateo County), north of the Golden Gate (Marin County and further north into Napa, then Sonoma counties) – those two examples right there have different demographics that would, seemingly, represent a variety of tastes, personalities, etc. Then, of course, one can’t leave out the important East Bay, which includes Oakland, Berkeley, Pleasanton, Emeryville, etc., I’d say that Berkeley is an important sector of the whole “Bay Area” aesthetic, with the UC Berkeley Campus that, since the early part of the 20th Century, has been the center of some of the most fascinating and important scientific, specifically physics-related output. So, even though, a lot of people who only know the history of the Berkeley campus through the hard-left, anti-war protests and the “free-speech” movement and Sproul Plaza, etc. are quite lacking in knowledge of the very important, world-changing scientific research that went on there, 20-40 years previous to the upheaval in the 1960s.
OK, so, now I’m going to just focus on The Dodos: with a band like The Dodos, who have been among this great agglomeration of variety and mishmashes of styles and sounds, music-wise, that have been one of San Francisco’s strengths, in becoming an attraction for the many, many, memorable bands and singers who either were natives of the area or, who, like Janis Joplin and Doug Sahm (with Steve Miller), immigrated from Texas. The amalgamated soup of diverse musical styles cemented SF as one of the places to go to and/or to be from. Of course, New York and Los Angeles also had their own, unique forms of style which differentiated outfits like The Doors, The Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas & The Papas, and, from the East Coast (NYC), The Velvet Underground, who were the antithesis of the whole “flower-power”, “hippie” thing, and were far more nihilistic and, instead of embracing the LSD happening, which was de rigueur of SF, the Velvets embraced heroin, downers, sadomasochism and, well, the one thing that was similar was the freedom of sexuality which, in the VU’s New York, was taken to the extreme.
So, where do the Dodo’s fit into this? Well, first of all, it is a long ways away from those heady days of the ’60s. Times have changed, ideas have melded into others, synergizing new ones, etc. and the newer generations of San Francisco, became, as did much of the rest of the US became cynical and jaded about the naive idealism of all the college kids and the hippies, etc. and then, of course, the 70s came and that brought with it a lot of new ideas, different musical styles that were focusing on what was happening in the times that were happening. But then you have to go and talk about the late 70s and the burgeoning punk/hardcore scene that sparked up – “punk” was always seen as really, a British thing that was born out of the frustrations of blue-collar kids who hated the glum lives their parents lived and didn’t want any part of it, so they got these bands together and they started, somewhat like the acid-rock stuff of the ’60s, singing anti-establishment songs, etc., but they were a specifically UK phenomenon. But the “hardcore” scene, which had a big start in the clubs of Los Angeles – bands like Black Flag, Minutemen, DOA, started up an American punk-rock: one that wasn’t quite related to the UK Punk scene, but one that was faster and more furious, and they’d address some social issues here and there, but the American hardcore scene was also about “breaking shit” and slam-dancing (which is what “moshing” was called, before it became associated with “speed metal”, the retarded, bastard child of hardcore). Then, in San Francisco, a less “fanatically hard charged” band called The Dead Kennedys, who played a lot of gigs at the (long-time gone) Mabuhay Gardens, in the North Beach section of SF, were getting big club audiences and selling records too.
Well, all of these various points of history go into the history of the Dodos: (read the review of Carrier for a more detailed history of the band) they consolidated various influences from the storied Bay Area – whether it be from the 1960s “Haight-Ashbury” scene (for lack of a better term) or the anti-disco, coked-up punk revues going on – American and British. You want to talk about the ’80s? Well, in the mid-80s, that’s when you suddenly had an explosion of radio-friendly, pop-music, like Huey Lewis & The News (who, ironically, had a bass player that was the brother of the late, great John Cippolina, of the hugely popular Quicksilver Messenger Service- the bass-playing brother’s name was Mario Cippolina -if you ever saw one of their videos, he was the one who always wore shades and had a cigarette dangling from his mouth). So, what to do – after all the fads and crazes had come and gone in the Bay Area – flower-power, hardcore, pop, then, in the 90s, a sort of move towards more independent stuff, when what would come to be known as “Alternative” rock in the aftermath of Nirvana’s big radio hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, there were, indeed, some great bands that weren’t all from the Bay Area, but who, nevertheless played here – bands like The Melvins, Superchunk, Mudhoney, Husker Du (in the 80s, since they imploded and broke up in ’87), etc.) After the new millennium started, things started shifting a bit. More harmony was seen in the music arena around the area, the term “Indie Rock” became a household term (at least to those who weren’t suckered into saccharine bubble-gum crap) -but, again, the whole “Indie-Music” thing, which was kind of a backlash against the heavy-handed corporate exploitation of this type of music (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, etc.). Instead of playing great stuff in clubs, then getting discovered by some asshole A &R guy from SONY Music or Warner Bros. (two of the worst epitomes of corporate pimping), this new generation of indie bands were shunning the major labels and sticking with labels like SST, which was starting to actually falter in this time period, but others like Touch & Go, TAANG!, Merge Records, Polyvinyl Records, Sub Pop and Matador, for the most part, who gave these bands a home, stuck by them and were true to them, true to their word, gave them complete control of their music and next thing you know, there’s a whole underground of bands which are putting out fantastic music, stuff that rises high above anything that any Top40 station is playing; hell, better than ANY commercial radio station was playing. It got to be so bad, in the radio scene (remember back in the 70s, when you could switch on your radio to an FM signal and find some really hip stations that would play deep cuts from, at that time, new albums -stuff in the early 70s and they were experimental, not so much “ratings-driven” as the AM pop stations were-and somewhere in their, I guess in the 80s, these FM stations started getting bought up by media conglomerates that DID start demanding better ratings and to do so, started dictating what kind of music would be played, etc) now, is only worth listening to if you have a college radio station in your area, like KUSF in SF or KXLU, in L.A.
So, The Dodos, they’ve been around for a time now, they know who they can trust and who they can’t. Individ is a badass album. Every song on here has got something shiny and sparkly (gem-like, in other words) on it and it’s so hard to have to pick out a few tunes – but I will, as an example, but, let me just say, that, the whole album is a great follow-up to Carrier and one to be very proud of. From the opener, “Precipitation”, to “Bubble”, “Darkness”, “Goodbyes and Endings” as well as the finale, a groovy, jam called “Pattern/Shadow”. These guys have got their stuff together and I’m just glad to see their name pop up here and there in various indie mags and blogs. It’s only January of 2015 -the beginning of the year! But, I’ve got a feeling that Individ is going to show up here, on Independent Review again – at the end of 2015, when I write up my next “Best of 2015” article.
If you are excited about the sound that they deliver and want to get the album or read about it, etc, you can go straight to https://www.polyvinylrecords.com and get some more info on it as well as order it straight from there (you could also go to Amazon.com).
Sorry if I skimped somewhat on what makes The Dodos such a courageous, mellifluous band, but, all you have to do is just trust me on this one; give it a listen and you will be freakin’ amazed at how their sonic sense of atmospherics, the jingly textures and the uncompromising esprit just makes it a singularly great album. -KM.