The Dodos aim to take it to the next level on Time to Die, but in doing so, they have lost sight of what made them so exciting in the first place.
Being a music lover these days is an exhausting passion. There was a time when you could stay abreast just by reading a couple of periodicals; younger still, you might have just raided your older brother’s record collection. But now the whole world has gone pop culture crazy; every newspaper and broadsheet in the Western world carries entertainment sections, raving about the latest release by the Rapture or the Gossip or the new flavour of the month. Just ponder that for a moment -- newspapers, typically concerned with politics and world affairs and finance, now covering what used to be the sole preserve of the NME. The internet is also awash with thousands of blogs and music websites, like this one even, presenting band after band that you “absolutely must listen to” right now. Every celebrity is acting like a A&R rep, spruiking their iPod tracklisting to anyone that will listen. We are being bombarded with new music. And that’s not to mention the singers and bands themselves, who now can form in the morning, record something on their home computer that afternoon, and stream their songs worldwide (from their own website) that evening.
I know the next MP3 I open on Hype Machine, or that next click on Last.fm, could find me listening to my new favourite band of all time. That’s exciting, and that’s what I love about music. But sometimes it can feel overwhelming. And what do you do when you are overwhelmed? You retreat. You run and hide, you dig deep, back into your comfort zone, to the warm familiarity and safety of your favourite bands and records. You stay there and you don’t go out and look for new music. Maybe you whine a bit about ‘the good old days’. Maybe the good old days were in fact better.
I don’t know what to make of the Dodos. I don’t think I “get it”. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to “get it”. They’re good-looking, in an indie heart-throb way -- I get that bit. Can they play their instruments? Yes, quite well. But what am I supposed to do with this music? It’s pretty, but not overly compelling; it rocks a bit, but not too much; it’s just there. It seems designed for people that found the Garden State soundtrack too threatening or for people who liked Fleet Foxes, but wished they were less inventive. It’s humourless, sexless, and worst of all for indie rock, just plain dull. If you value consistency in favour of innovation, these might be the songs for you.
Their last album Visiter possessed many genuinely exciting moments (that frenzied start to “Jodi”, the slide guitar and garage drumming of “Paint the Rust”), but its immediacy and propulsive energy have been excised for what seems a bid for maturity. So then will Time to Die only reveal its secret charms to me after repeated listens? Possibly. But for all the new music coming out at the moment, has anyone even got the time to do that now?
That’s a weird, unsettling question for a music critic (nay, music lover). It sounds like I’m giving up on music. But nothing could be further from the truth. The awe-inspiring amount of readily available music in the world is actually raising my standards. That is to say -- I know that I can miss this bus because there’s another hundred coming along next minute. Maybe some quality music is getting crushed or overlooked, but that’s more a problem for a band than a listener. As exhausting as it may be to stay across everything, there’s actually never been a better time to just be a listener.
And yes, it is terribly unfair to dump this rant on the Dodos, whose only crime was to release an album that did not pique my interest. But I’ve been holding out for a couple of weeks, trying to do a “straight” review of this album, and I can’t. I can’t write something about the drumming on whatever track or the lyrical couplet on whatever song. Because if this album is for you, you already know you are going to like it. This is not the '60s – not everyone is listening to the Beatles (my present obsession with the reissues excluded). We are so fractionalised that we need five adjectives just to describe what genre of music we are into this week. So, of course, there is a niche for this music. Of course this band is somebody’s favourite band of all time. Maybe they are a hundred people’s favourite band of all time, maybe a thousand or many, many more. But not on the evidence of this album. Time to Die will be filler for most people, a stopgap, a passing interest, at best a stepping stone. Because there are hundreds of thousands of better bands out there, and they are all at your fingertips.