Review Summary: Reignite the light.
The cover of the Dodos’ sixth record says it all: a figure almost Greek-like in stark relief, outlined by a whirlpool of colors coalescing into a brilliant spot of light at the center. In the foreground is a demon figure, watching the hero struggle forward into something brighter, something hopefully greater – more importantly, away. While the artistic direction may be a bit on the nose, Individ
is a more subtly affecting trip that repurposes past tropes; here, the reckless adventuring of 2008’s Visiter
and the electric, more contemplative shadings of 2013’s Carrier
was defined by the death of ex-Women guitarist and Dodos member Christopher Reimer, whose short-lived influence on the band defined not only that album’s music but also its considerably affecting pathos. Recorded shortly after the Carrier
sessions in the band’s San Francisco headquarters, Individ
reads as the eulogy of Carrier
giving way to classic Dodos vignettes – stuttering, frenetic drum rhythms, complex guitars that turn around on each other with a bite, Meric Long’s laconic, monotone vocals and lazily spun lyrics that rarely reveal themselves on a single listen – that revel in the vitality of life.
“Until now, there was a reason / let go of it / it’s not relevant,” Long begins on “Precipitation,” before catching that laissez-faire attitude with a condition: “and what now that we are over / what storm ahead could we precipitate"” The pain of Carrier
is clearly still evident, but it is more muted here, the kind of dull suffering that comes with time and, eventually, acceptance. Indeed, a later declaration – “now that we are over it / just storm ahead / don’t ever hesitate” – arrives just as Logan Kroeber’s kinetic drumming picks up; a page being turned. The song ends in a whirlwind of technical virtuosity and a euphoric catharsis, the instruments doing far more in this regard than Long’s vocals ever could. More than any record of theirs since Visiter
is an album that finds happiness by turning inward, stretching the limits of what Long and Kroeber can do as musicians and what the Dodos can create as a band by focusing on what remains a uniquely distinct sound. Meters fluctuate and metastasize under shimmery, nostalgic reverb on “Bubble,” while a furious electric guitar taps out bursts of syncopated fuzz on “Retriever,” interlocking seamlessly with Kroeber’s octopus grooves. Forever imbued in the band’s DNA, though, is that electric guitar, so strikingly introduced via Reimer and which now seems as inseparable a part of the band’s intricate compositions as Long’s effortless fingerpicking.
The best examples of the band’s fearless energy are twin monuments to the band’s imitable ability to teeter on the edge of spiraling out of control without sounding like anything other than a well-oiled machine. “Goodbyes and Endings” splices several different time signatures into an impressive whole, but that’s nothing compared to “Pattern/Shadow.” This skittish beast of a tune shifts from Long’s caged guitar, rattling its bars against Kroeber’s militantly precise beats, before escaping into a triumphant ballad that’s almost as quickly snuffed out by the distortion-heavy jam of an outro that might as well be the aural equivalent of the band throwing all those colors onto the cover themselves. Perhaps more than any previous Dodos album, Individ
is a marvel to listen to, an almost aggressively physical display of musicianship and a chemistry borne out of an ideal partnership.
For all its technical skill, though, this focus inward makes for a circular listening experience, at least for long time listeners of the band. It’s difficult to feel like this is ground that hasn’t been traversed before, and just as well. Both Visiter
and 2011’s No Color
set the bar for what this band could accomplish as musicians, while Carrier
added a refreshing emotional dimension to a sound that could previously come across as distant. There were actual stakes at hand, and while Individ
is a record still tinged with gravitas, it falls short of the peaks and valleys of its predecessors. Is death simply a more powerful catalyst than the relief that follows, or the acceptance of what’s to come" It’s difficult to say – visceral single “Competition” and the persistent pop of “The Tide” make very good arguments against that theory. Yet for all its acumen, Individ
remains a distressingly familiar listen.
There’s another way to look at that cover, of course: the naked figure not pushing towards something but holding the light back, a fight against, not for, that brightness. It would be wrong to call Individ
anything less than a success for what it sets out to do, as empty as it may feel. It would have been interesting to see, though, an Individ
where the hero fails and is driven, helplessly, back towards the insidious figure that lurks behind him.