Death is a major theme in The Dodos latest release, “Time To Die”, and it is fitting, although not in the way that they intended. Like a funeral, the album pays tribute to their past at times, but overall, the experience is one of mourning. The songs still resemble the same melodic band with Meric Long’s signature guitar strums and Logan Kroeber’s African drums keeping pace. But upon further review, the album lacks the life that made “Visiter” and “Beware of Maniacs” so irresistible.
I would hate to go as far as to say the band’s sound is dead, far from. The album features some of their most mature material to date, and is even a tighter package than their past offerings that seemed to ramble on at times. Yet, I don’t remember anyone wanting The Dodos to grow up. That youthful exuberance is what made “Visiter” such a gem in 2008; while the songs were instantly hummable, they were hidden within Meric’s playful banging upon his guitar and Krober’s unpredictable beats. You could tell they were having fun, and you joined in the fun just by listening.
“Visiter” often drew comparisons to Animal Collective due to its tribal meanderings, but those experimental dabblings are all but dead, although “Two Medicines” is a failed attempt at rekindling this sound. The album just sounds too pretty. Where’s the vibration of Meric’s guitar strings? The crack of Groeber’s stick upon the edge of a drum head? All but gone. Instead, Meric’s voice is put on center stage, caked in reverb and smoothed like a once jagged stone.
They were once like puppies, charming and mischievous, yet impulsive and often straying where they shouldn’t. Now they are in that awkward stage between puppy-hood and becoming a full fledged dog. They’ve been trained to do what an up-and-coming band should do (hire a big name producer, sell the rights to their hit song for a Miller Light Chill commercial, etc). You still gotta love them, but they just aren’t as spunky.
While they once wrote fun little dittys like “Horny Hippies” and “Elves”, they are now trying to convey messages like “The image on the board, selling things we can’t afford” or “Don’t think we need you, but you need us, this is a business!” Unfortunately, they come across about as insightful as a high school student’s term paper on global warming.
After the genius that was “Visiter”, I’d like to believe this is a bump in the road. The majority of the songs on “Time to Die” show promise, and by the time the final two tracks arrive, glimpses of where the band is going creates hope for a better day. Maybe the band is just experiencing musical puberty, that uncertain stage of trying to figure out what it is to be an indie rock powerhouse. Until then, I guess this awkward puppy will suffice.