After releasing two brilliant and critically acclaimed albums, Beware of the Maniacs and Visiter, The Dodos fumbled a bit with their third release, Time to Die. The album had a few good parts, but didn’t live up to the impossibly high standards set by their earlier releases (especially Visiter, which came dangerously close to becoming a perfect album and thus destroying the universe with its greatness).
A big fuss was made over the fact that the band, normally a duo of singer-guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber, added a full time vibraphonist for the record, a move that made many fans cry foul. The vibraphone’s addition didn’t really take and was eventually removed, but despite that misstep, the band has continued to mix up their instrumentation.
However, this time that new instrument selection combined with an impressive variety of styles and consistent quality, makes their newest release No Color a glorious return to form for the kings of indie folk.
Right away listeners will know this record is something special. The album’s opening track (and likely first single) “Black Night” starts the album off sounding a lot like the earlier Dodos releases. The track relies entirely on Kroeber’s intense drumming and Long’s heavily syncopated guitar, even throwing in a few vocal yelps in with the regular lyrics (something that Time to Die sorely missed). However, after “Black Night,” the album slowly reveals that it isn’t just an attempt to recapture their earlier glory; most of the other songs on the album feature subtle changes in instrumentation that push the group’s sound forward.
Though the addition of new instruments is what caused Time to Die to falter, No Color manages to avoid making the same mistake by using the new sounds in moderation, and with much more subtlety. One of the albums later songs, “Companions,” starts with a lone melancholy guitar riff, but when it’s repeated later in the song, it’s complemented by some backing violin. The addition of violin really helps add to the song’s building emotion, and it does it in a way that isn’t distracting or jarring. Elsewhere in the record we even get a few fuzzy electric guitar riffs.
The Dodos toyed with the idea earlier on Visiter’s “Fools” before bringing it back here for a few different songs, each with equally impressive results. Even better, just like the violin, the electric guitar never outperforms the real stars of the show: the acoustic guitar and explosive drum combo that has become the band’s trademark.
Similarly, the songs featuring backing vocals by Neko Case (alt country solo artist and member of indie-supergroup The New Pornographers) don’t feel like ”collaboration” tracks. This isn’t The Dodos w/ Neko Case, this is The Dodos, with Neko Case along for the ride.
By tweaking their sound but not rewriting it, the band has crafted a varied and enjoyable experience. Unlike Time to Die’s vibraphone, the band’s evolution on No Color never eclipses what made them great in the first place.
Perhaps more remarkable than the change in instrumentation is the album’s persistently high quality. Each track on the release is good; each fits well with the others while still capturing a different atmosphere and emotional range, and each is worth many, many listens. More than anything else, the consistency and potential for repeat listening make this album worth checking out and one of the best releases of 2011 so far.
The Dodos – No Color Tracklist:
- “Black Night”
- “Going Under”
- “Don’t Try and Hide It”
- “When Will You Go”
- “Hunting Season”
- “Don’t Stop”
- “All Night”