Review Summary: Why won't you be where I want you to be?
The Dodos have always fascinated me, but it was something I could never put my finger on. When Visiter
stormed up my end-of-year list in 2008, it was unlike anything I had heard before: a thrilling, whacky stew of polyrhythms and frantic acoustics, built around impatient time signatures and the measured vocals of Meric Long, wrapping himself around syllables as if he had all the time in the world. Their music was always more a feeling than a text, and it was this sort of inscrutable something
that pulled me in. Carrier
is the first Dodos record to make death a tangible thing, a gloaming that hangs over every song here with a sigh, but it’s these thematic threads that bring me back to the old Dodos with the realization that this is where they’ve been all along. “Ashley” was the first Dodos track I fell in love with, likely because I was actually dating someone named Ashley at the time and its lovesick question was candid and immediate, but listening back to it the jittery romance is downright haunting, a paean to something that already seems lost in a ghostly outro. Carrier
, finally, brings that emotional subtext to the front, and the result is a Dodos record that is thrillingly translucent and crushingly intimate, almost uncomfortably so. It’s love and loss, as straightforward as you please.
While ostensibly one bearing a burden, Carrier
to me signifies someone sickly, contagious and flushed, in the tradition of Dodos albums more morose than I initially thought. Visiter
signified a nebulous, vaguely threatening other; No Color
a chilling absolute; the straightforward Time to Die
, coincidentally their most uneven, needs no explanation. But the patient zero here isn’t the Dodos themselves but ex-Women guitarist Chris Reimer, who joined the band during the No Color
tour but tragically died before they began recording. Those shows and jams playing with Reimer sunk deep roots in Long and drummer Logan Kroeber. Reimer’s presence is most loudly announced in the electric guitar, which dominates the proceedings here to an extent heretofore rarely seen on a Dodos album. That sparkling tone gives “The Current” an organic fluidity, provides “Transformer” with the pensive curlicues around Long’s verses, and paints broad, thunderous strokes alongside Kroeber’s monsoon drumming on “Stranger.” Yet Reimer’s influence is less an instrumental one and more a spiritual weight. His passing provides a handy signpost in navigating Carrier
, but it’s just one in a long, twisty road of them. Carrier
may be funereal, but what it’s mourning is bigger than any one person.
is sad, its melancholy almost oppressively palpable at times, but the Dodos refuse to wallow – if anything, Carrier
is a learning experience in eleven songs. It begins with the questions “What is a song? What is love?” as if they are one and the same, and ends with a therapeutic, almost meditative chant on “The Ocean.” First single “Confidence” grapples most directly with Reimer’s loss (“son you had to come and take a friend away, my mind is empty / my body still, my mind is empty”), but at the end is the stronger for it, realizing that he “who has it all, has nothing here” before an agile, jubilant guitar solo. On “Relief,” Long describes an almost pastoral portrait, the kind where you can feel the sweat and tears coating all the sepia images, the immeasurable loss that goes into every life. But the end result is a reward, a swell of groaning guitar that rises up through a triumphant chord progression before returning to its familiar, well-worn fingerpicking: Long back with his family, nostalgic and content. The Dodos have always been a subtle band, even with all the dizzying drumming and blistering acoustics, but Carrier
, whether it’s because of the electric guitar’s welcome textures or the band’s deliberate pacing, rarely fails to connect. What could have been a morbid, circular examination of loss is instead a reflection on life, friends, love, and how to deal with the kind of gaping hole that opens under one with no warning.
It’s a hole succinctly explored in “The Ocean,” which operates as sort of a microcosm of the album as a whole and concludes things with a numbing repetition that speaks to the brilliant, dumb, endless blue of its namesake. It begins as a dirge, but as Long moves from the comforting (“it’s only the ocean”) to the enlightening (“there’s no need to run at all”), and finally to that celebratory final chorus, it resolves all of Carrier’s
tension and heartache with insistent chords, ringing brass and a cathartic question: “Why won’t you be where I want you to be?” It’s a poignant, heartbreaking climax, but it’s one that fits just so in the context of Carrier
. This is a record concerned about loss – not just how it feels, but how we cope with it, how we process it and then get up the next day and rinse and repeat until that loss becomes just another part of our lives, less a hole and more about filling that void with memories. The Dodos understand that some things can’t be forgotten, no matter how painful they might be. How Carrier
succeeds is in showing us that, maybe, we might not want to.