Review Summary: The Dodo's pull out all the stops in a riotous return to form.
Acoustic music is often expected to sound calm and quiet. If it is more up-beat, we might expect it to be folksy, bluesy, or even country. We rarely expect such music to exhibit anything but the faintest hint of intensity. The Dodos have been actively proving this conception wrong ever since their self-released debut Beware the Maniacs. Guitar virtuoso Meric Long and mustachioed percussionist Logan Kroeber were signed to French Kiss Records in 2007, followed by the release of their second album, Visiter. The album was praised for its aggressive, unpredictable brand of folk, as well as its heart and sincerity. The follow up to this record, Time to Die, however, seemed to miss the point of what had made the Dodos so fresh and exciting in the first place. It was heavily produced, eliminating the raw intensity found in their previous albums and toning down the aggression to a limp radio-friendly shtick. Thankfully, the band’s newest record, No Color, returns to the wonderful chaos of Visiter while retaining the accessibility of Time to Die.
The album is rather tiered when it comes to the quality of the songs. “When Will You Go,” the only bad song on the album, simply never seems to take off like the rest of No Color. It stands out as boring and uninspired, sustaining the same monotonous tune throughout. The three middle songs, “Don’t Try and Hide It,” “Good,” and “Hunting Season,” are actually quite good, but they lack that special something that keeps listeners interested past the first few listens. This is primarily due to a lack of solid hooks, as well as an absence of the creative and diverse instrumentation found on other of the album’s better tracks.
Out of the nine songs on No Color, five stand head and shoulders above the rest. “Black Night,” the album’s opening track, places a strong focus on Logan Kroeber’s erratic, machine-gun drumming. However, it is Meric Long’s creative melodies that succeed in making what should have been a claustrophobic mess so utterly captivating. The next song “Going Under,” builds slowly into an anthemic chorus and a rip-roaring finale. “Sleep,” on the other hand, shifts focus to Long’s melodic guitar and beautiful ethereal harmonies. The strings that come in halfway through the song will catch you off guard, and carry you to euphoric heights. “Companions” is driving, yet subtle. Long forms the basis of the song with several layers of arpeggiated guitar, while Kroeber balances intensity and minimalism to great effect. The closing track, “Don’t Stop,” is simply the best work The Dodos have ever released. The song opens with a blistering, intricate acoustic guitar riff, which explodes into a melange of rhythm and vocals. There is an overwhelming amount of things going on in the song, yet, somehow, it feels incredibly tight. Everything works together brilliantly, creating a sort of entrancing magic that draws listeners in and doesn’t let go until it’s all over. In the creation of No Color, the band made the controversial decision to add an electric guitar to their acoustic-only repertoire of instruments. “Don’t Stop” is the perfect example of why this was a great choice. The electric guitar provides small background harmonics throughout the verses, only to surge into the foreground during the chorus. It is amazingly evocative. The rest of the album pales in the shadow of this masterpiece.
At the end of the day No Color is a riotous return to form for the San Francisco duo. It retains the accessibility of Time to Die, yet remains as intense and unpredictable as their first two albums. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Visiter, and though only four songs fall short of the precedent set by singles such as “Fools” and “Fables,” that is four songs out of nine. So, in the end, it is up to the discerning listener to decide the value of the music they purchase, and on an album that is, by today’s standards, short to begin with, it may be a better decision resist a physical purchase, and attain individual tracks via iTunes or Amazon.