Review Summary: Come and join us in the trenches.
The fact remains that I didn’t very much care for Visiter
(named for a drawing duo vocalist/guitarist Meric Long and percussionlist Logan Kroeber received playing for special-ed students and which now serves as the album’s cover) the first time I heard it. I didn’t care for it the second, third, or twentieth time I heard it. I could tell that it was definitely a work worthy of praise, but the album’s frankness and solid workmanship gave it a shallow kind of quaintness; beautiful but emotionally stunted. I waited for the quirks and cracks in Long’s performance, a touch of vulnerability or sorrow that he seems to want to convey but won’t. I waited for the squeal of guitars; the lone pluck out of place, maybe a beat that would stumble into another.
What I was given was an album that seemed as stubborn as its length was long. I wasn’t alone in feeling this: Cole Stryker, writing for Popmatters, stated, in their 6 out of 10 review, “Meric Long’s… half-hearted delivery lacks the emotional impact of Jeff Buckley- a deadpan, ‘Your love is like a thorn in my side’ being particularly groan-inducing example,” even equating them to the freak-folk scene that began when Natalie Portman opened her big, fat mouth. But is that really where we’ve ended up, questioning a band as talented and solid as the Dodos because they steer clear of the quirks and emotional tics that we’ve grown so accustomed to in rock, and especially indie-rock, music? I went into Visiter
with this mindset and it was thrown back in my face: if there’s one thing that always got to me on those first few listens was the feeling that the problem wasn’t Visiter
but me. I was looking for something, anything in the wrong places.
On the outset, Visiter
immediately draws listeners in, the delicate acoustic-driven opener, “Walking,” setting the stage for what follows it. The folk roots shine through clearly here, Long plucking intensely at a banjo as guest vocalist Laura Gibson gives the chorus a warm, feminine touch. It’s the stuff intros should strive to be, so short, simple and effective, and builds rather nicely into the clanking percussions of “Red and Purple.” The song is a rollicking example of American folk and Long’s “deadpan” performance, giving the song a bit of Beach Boys in the chorus: “I know that I am yours and you will be mine / Come and join us in the trenches / red and purple by our side.” He is quite the presence on the album, a born performer that brings a delicate sort of charm to each song; “Fools” is notable for the spurts of electric guitar that disrupt the locomotive drum rolls, but it’s Long that steals the spotlight as the music drops out from under him (“I’ve been / I’ve been silent”).
What really allows Visiter
to stick out, and what was always a draw for me, is the small details that the Dodos touch upon but never run into the ground. “Joe’s Waltz,” clocking in at 7-minutes and at only the fifth track, is a country western fitted with a piano spewing ragtime under it (the song’s transition halfway through is an album highlight). The dissonance to John’s voice in “Winter” is a perfect counter-focus to the strained chords and hollow barrel beat, rising steadily into a horn section that could easily be Beirut’s Zach Condon making an appearance. The static-y clashing of instruments in “Paint the Rust” brings a rousing immediacy to the lyrics: “I see the man of every man / of every girl that I’ve ever loved / they sing the same until the dawn / when we’re away off into the sun.” There’s a sensual underlining to the understated “Park Song” and a self-acknowledging smirk in Long’s delivery (“Saw the girl I know from my job / I think that she must think that I’m retarded / I act so dumb when I get started”).
What I came to realize about Visiter
, and what ultimately made the record for me, was how I was to view Long and his performance. He was the reason I found the album so difficult to crack, like he was treating his issues without the necessary weight behind them. But Long treats his stories like he’s telling them over a few drinks, asserting his masculinity by filtering his issues through folklore, which means that once the cracks start to show (Gibson’s ghostly refrains of the title character in “Ashley”), Visiter
goes in some unexpected directions. The noisy cries in “The Season” pack a wallop that leads, somewhat successfully (the rickety “Undeclared” comes into play here, but we’ll get back to that), to Visiter
’s most powerful and resounding success, album closer “God?” With the sway of bells, Long and Kroeber treat “God?” with a hardened precision, the drums a rousing rumble of frustration as Long paints a stricken relationship with his faith: “Oh God, where’d you go? / Tell us how to feel inside / no lies, no lies, no lies.”
Even so, the album is still a bit too long at 59 minutes, and while each song is good in its own right (except, perhaps, the drunken, barroom rouser “It’s That Time Again”), some could have been excised to make the album feel a bit tighter. There’s some issues with the tracklisting as well, which is the album’s biggest weakness: where “Ashley,” “The Season” and “God?” should have made for an exceptional closing segment, “Undeclared” corrupts the flow and should have been an unobtrusive epilogue or dropped altogether. With the variety evident on Visiter
, it's clear that the duo have a wide array of albums in their collection that influence each and every inch of the album. What makes Visiter
so riveting and definite is the unshakeable feeling that the Dodos are still something very much their own. Visiter
is an impressive sophomore album, a wonderful growth for the Dodos, and one of the year’s subtlest surprises, even if it took thirty listens to get there. Take this as a formal apology from me: Visiter
might just be essential.