Written by Jeremy Ryan
A friend of mine recently pointed out how quickly disposable today’s technology has rendered music. Though this statement appears to be quite obvious in a superficial sense; i.e., gone, for the most part, are the days of unwrapping a new album and listening to it’s contents with entirely fresh ears, excitedly perusing the record’s album art and lyric sheet. It is also true in that, given today’s technology, after a few listens, if a record doesn’t catch one’s ear, one artist is conveniently and quickly replaced by another (or twenty others). As a young teenager, I purchased a number of deplorable records (ahhemmm, I’m looking at you, Stone Temple Pilots), and, no matter how bad they were, I repeatedly listened to them, desperate to hear some melodic nuance, some clever lyrical phrasing… shit, something that made me feel like I had not just blown fifteen hard earned dollars.
This didn’t always work, as can be attested too by the Pappa Roach CD that I furiously hurled out of my 1990 Toyota Corolla, completely certain that there was absolutely no reason to ever revisit it again. However, usually my ears could eventually detect something worth revisiting, or capture even the vaguest glimmer of redeeming musical merit.
An album wouldn’t have been discarded in a matter of days (Pappa Roach not withstanding), nee, a matter of weeks, at times, even months. In today’s musical landscape, not only does a record need to be tolerable, it needs to set itself apart from the rest of the crowd almost immediately, both in terms of it’s genre, and its sheer listenability. For instance, for every John Darnielle, there are twenty five Mason Jennings’. The medium is the same, but the quality just…. isn’t. Ten years ago, I would have milked every ounce of possible enjoyment out of a Mason Jennings’ record, but these days, what’s the point if there isn’t anything there after a few listens? Why continue to salvage something of substance out of a mediocre record when there are so many fantastic options literally a few clicks away? I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once wrote, and I am paraphrasing here, just because everyone can ride a bicycle, doesn’t mean that everyone belongs in the Tour de France. Such is acoustic guitar based indie rock.
Where is this going? Well, here we go….. I was initially hesitant to buy into the hype surrounding The Dodos (MySpace). There have been just too many instances where I have been… well, not exactly disappointed by the folk rock genre, but just generally completely underwhelmed. There are so many singer songwriter-y acts out there, that, plain and simple, the ratio of good acts to Jason Mraz’s is very low. However, upon listening to Visiter one time through, it should be evident to anyone interested in pursuing quality music, that is simply not the case with The Dodos. Visiter is a spectacular blend of genre’s; ranging from psychedelia, to indie pop, to drone-y ambient noise. The Dodos have seamlessly constructed a remarkably unique, interesting, and all together exceptional record. Visiter is part Animal Collective / Indian Jewelry / Akron Family-ish freaky noise-folk, part Deerhoof with acoustic guitars, and part something entirely The Dodos’ own. Visiter, in terms of quality, is one of the best records of 2008, a release that grabs the listener the first time through, and effectively reveals a new and riveting element of itself with each subsequent spin.
The Dodos are at their best when they allow their songs to develop slowly, thus, the strongest tracks on Visiter are, by no coincidence, Visiters‘ longest. Meric Long’s guitar playing, especially when used as a kind of percussive device (think Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs) is brilliantly complimented by Logan Kroeber’s frantic and thunderous use of synchopated tribal style bass drum beats. For instance, the album’s fourth track, “Fools,” perfectly displays the chaotic harmony that Long and Kroeber routinely employ so effectively, as inspired lyrics and guitar playing are juxtaposed perfectly with chaotic percussion, birthing an exciting, unique sound. “Joe’s Waltz,” the albums longest track, coming in right around seven minutes, immediately follows “Fools,” and makes for one of the record’s high points, slowly unraveling itself around heartfelt lyrics, until the point where it builds in to an all around musical frenzy of the most enjoyable type.
Though many of Visiter‘s tracks employ the same type of blueprint, The Dodos keep things sounding fresh and lively thoughout the album. The only misstep would have to be “Park Song” a decent enough song musically, accompanied with, literally, wince-inducing lyrical belly flops. One of these “ouch” type moments goes as follows: Woke up today a bit too late / Put on my shoes and got some coffee / Cranked out the tunes, I think it was Roxy / Went back to snooze until 8:30.
Luckily, the rest of the record’s lyrical content is, for the most part, exceptional. A notable example of this is the sixth track, a sad tune about a break-up being mirrored by the seasonal discomfort of winter. On the track, not surprisingly called “Winter,” Long sings, Goodnight my love, you seemed so nice ’til I knew you better / Now I can tell you’re always thinking twice about what might be better / On the outside, there’s no conscience, you’re a victim of your cautiousness / You don’t try, you just lie there hoping that someone will come to make it right. I can’t even believe both of those those phrases were written by not only the same person, but even someone in the same age group.
Visiter is an excellent record; you would be doing yourself a substantial disservice not to at least give it a try. Though there is no accounting for poor taste, I would be genuinely surprised if most people didn’t get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. To re-visit (no pun intended…) an earlier metaphor: most folk-rock acts, especially acoustic duos, are a “My Little Pony” bike with training wheels; The Dodos are a wild eyed, steroid-ed up Floyd Landis, bombing through the finish line in the 2006 Tour de France.
Yes. I also love cycling.
The Dodos: Fools [mp3]
French Kiss Records [CD, 2008]
2. Red and Purple
5. Joe’s Waltz
7. It’s That Time Again
8. Paint the Rust
9. Park Song
12. The Season