The Dodos – Time to Die

I didn’t feel like reviewing any of the albums that came out this week, so I am going to do another one from last week.

I first saw the Dodos at the ’08 Sled Island Music Festival in Calgary. Their setup seemed strange right from the start. There was a seat for the guitar player, the drum kit was sparse, and there were random things like garbage cans and toy pianos kicking around on a table at the back of the stage. The two members came onstage, and seeing that the guitar player was using an old semi-acoustic guitar, I thought they were going to play some sensitive, quiet music with limited drums. Was I ever wrong. The guitar player plugged into an overdriven amp and starting hammering out chords and frantically finger picking. He was seated still seemed active, and spent most of his time almost tipping off the front of his seat. The drummer treated his kit in a similar fashion, hitting every possible part of it in frantic rhythms. From time to time a third person would come on stage to add percussion by banging on the trash can, or add chords and percussion by banging on the toy piano. The music while frantic and messy, was still melodic and pleasing, with the guitar player’s vocals adding feeling or energy to every song. The melodies either floated nicely over quick strummed and picked parts, or matched up melodically and rhythmically to more spread-out chords.

After seeing this impressive performance, I picked up their first album, Visiter, and was rewarded with a similar sound to what I heard at the show. More of the songs were played on an acoustic guitar on the album, although often doubled with a distorted electric guitar to keep that grit in there. Also, no effort was made by the guitar player to hit the strings lighter so that they would not rattle, very much like on acoustic Led Zeppelin songs, and I think that adds a lot of character to the sound, because thats what it really sounds like when you play an acoustic with any sort of abandon. Anyhoo, enough about live and the previous album, on to Time to Die!

Overview
This album is certainly a lot cleaner and more layered than the previous one, and the vocals are certainly more prominent, and sweeter sounding on most songs. The previous album sounded like every instrument and microphone was turned up just a little too loud, and the few extra instruments blended into the mix along with the vocals. This different approach to their new songs (both in writing and recording), has its pros and cons. I feel like some parts could have used a little more string rattle and distortion, but some quieter or moody parts had a lot more atmosphere and space, and didn’t feel so cramped. I think it made for a more varied and stronger album than Visiter. The singer’s voice is unremarkable, but I think it fits the music just right, anything more aggressive would make to much of a mess with everything else going on, and anything more subdued would get lost or take the energy out of a song. I think that although The Dodos aren’t breaking new musical ground, they are hard to compare to other groups due to the distinctive way they choose to play familiar music. I did hear hints of Bleed American era Jimmy Eat World on “the Strums”, guitar breakdowns on “Time to Die” that sound Jimmy Page inspired (think Bron y Aur stomp), fingerpicked guitar on “Acorn Factory” that is not unlike that found on Gomez’s album, A New Tide, as well as A.D.D. drumming throughout that reminds me of the likeminded drumming off Bloc Party’s Silent alarm.

Highlights
This is a Business:
This is closer to what Visiter sounded like, but tighter and cleaner. The mad fingerpicking is still there, but at times the electric guitar is played all by itself pretty clean, and most of the grit seems to come in through a distorted keyboard in the background as opposed to the electric guitar. The middle of the song takes a different turn with a subdued marching beat, and and a sense of space in the other instruments contrasting with the busyness of the rest of the song.

Time to Die:
The title track leads off with something that sounds like a few people blowing air over the top of glass bottles with volume swells. A relaxed acoustic guitar part and melody take it from there for awhile, with nice 70’s ballad harmonies, before a wall of harmonies leads into typical Dodos bang-rattle-bang, and more typical indie guitar, with the aforementioned Jimmy Page guitar breakdowns.

Company:
I think this might be a bonus track, but it beat out my next favorite (Two Medicines) for the third spot in the highlights section. Buzz-Ding-Buzz-Bang-Bang intro, and more frantic vocal and guitar chord matching over the bed of fuzz laid in the intro. Distorted vibraphone (giant wood xylophone), and stretched out vocals lend character to the chorus. An angular guitar bridge seperates the rest of the song from the ending, which brings the buzz of the intro back in, rocks out like a bunch of musicians suddenly reverse aged back into a bunch of children banging on fisher price intstruments, before returning to the Buzz-Ding-Buzz-Bang-Bang of the intro.

Music Nerdery
The guitar player does not use a pick, he just grows the fingernails on his picking hand very long, which allows him to five-finger pick and spanish-style strum like a madman, but make it sound like he’s got a pick taped on every finger. Watching him play and thinking about that makes my fingernails hurt. They’re all curvy and stuff, what if he catches one on a string going in the direction that doesn’t allow it slide off? Yikes. Also, how does he keep his fingernails from wearing down if he is strumming that hard? I beat the crap out of my pointer fingernail even playing with a pick.

Another note, this dude has mad skills, his messiness is all on purpose, and very accurate. If you listen to both albums, you’ll hear parts where he purposely doesn’t fret a note all the way, making a weird buzzy note, or picks things kinda funny. At first you might think it was just a mistake that sounds kinda cool, but he plays it the same way every time. Check out Troll Nacht for an example.

I keep thinking I am done this section and then I keep thinking of more things. I think the drummer doesn’t use a bass drum, anything that sounds that low is just a floor tom hit with a mallet. Probably explains why a lot of the music feels pretty frantic; no beat to anchor it.

Recommendations
If you like engergetic music, not necessarily danceable or head bobbable due to the lack of a defined beat, this is for you. The melodies are nice, and while the guitar is messy or frantic at times, it’s not all dischordant or out of tune, so I think there is something here for most people. If you like this album, check out the previous one, Visiter. Also check out Visiter if you thought this one was too polished and could use a little more string rattle and a little bit of distortion on everything.

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