Dodos: No Color

Everything you need to know about the new Dodos album can literally be heard in its first seven seconds: the drums are back, and they are very, very loud.


No Color

Label: Frenchkiss
US Release Date: 2011-03-15

Everything you need to know about the new Dodos album can literally be heard in its first seven seconds: the drums are back, and they are very, very loud.

While it would be easy to characterize No Color -- the band's fourth full-length -- as a retreat back into the "indie-percussive-folk" sound that they made their name with on 2008's Visiter (and only somewhat abandoned on the indifferently-received 2009 follow-up Time to Die), such a description would gloss over the fact that not only is the band trying to sound like their former selves, they're actually writing songs like their former selves as well.

It's not that Time to Die was necessarily a bad album or an outright stylistic detour -- the addition of keyboardist Keaton Snyder honestly didn't add as many new textures as fans thought he would -- it was just a very muted album. While before the band virtually centered all of their songs around the drums as a lead instrument, on Time to Die they flipped that dynamic, and the drums now merely supported singer Meric Long's guitar work (now amplified to the nth degree) instead of forcing him to audibly overcome Logan Kroeber's pounding of skins -- a move that ultimately deflated the tension and energy in their music. Yet that alone wasn't the reason why Time to Die disappeared as quickly as it arrived -- Long's songwriting just lost a lot of its edge. While certain moments harkened back to Visiter's many highlights ("Two Medicines" chief among them), the duo's need for stretching out in new directions uncovered more weakness than they did strengths, showing that Long's guitar-work on its own was (surprisingly) not enough to carry a song. As such, it's easy to hear No Color as nothing more than the sound of backpedaling, glorious backpedaling.

So, instead of breaking out of their rut by trying even wilder tangents (or going to the other end of that extreme and trying that whole "sell-out" thing everyone keeps talking about), the duo instead decided to streamline their sound, and they wound up finding a perfect balance between their percussive-folk leanings and their outright pop instincts on No Color. After single "Black Night" opens up the record with the sound of gigantic, pounding drums, it then launches into one of Long's most considered quick-strum melodies, all while he throws out missives of being burned by a mysterious flame after obsessing over them for too long. The lyrical ellipses continue on the shifting "Going Under", where Long's words manage to be vague enough to warrant meaning without sounding overly labored (the song opens with the line "This takes us by surprise, I'm sure / Are you the curse? Are you the cure?"). Best of all, it seems that Long has fully grown into the role of vocalist with this effort, finding the perfect balances between singing dramatically and singing emotionally, perfecting it to the point that even though Neko Case is listed as giving backing vocals on a lot of tracks, you barely even hear her on the album.

Yet perhaps the most fascinating aspect of No Color is that even after all the attempted stylistic detours of Time to Die, it's No Color's latter-half that finds the band borrowing from more stylistic templates than ever before, and almost all for the better. The frantic picking on closer "Don't Stop" sounds like a joyous full-band cross between John Fahey and Will Stratton, and the positively upbeat "Don't Try and Hide It" might have well been an AM radio hit in the 1970s, as it simply radiates sunshine from Long's simple chord progressions and impassioned singing. That's not to say that the band switches up their sound on every track -- they have just found a way to incorporate a new variety of influences to the Dodos' signature strum-n-pound sound, and each new track brings slight, subtle mutations on their key strengths (even if the Sufjan-esque vibraphones used in "Hunting Season" wind up disappointing a bit: they are used in the intro and are then promptly dropped, hinting at what could've been but never heard again).

With all of that said though, it's somewhat ironic that the one problem for an album titled No Color is that despite all of its interesting eccentrics, this disc is fairly monochromatic. Long's guitar sounds almost the same in every track, and the tempo rarely fluctuates; as such, a lot of the songs can blur together on a straight-through listen, which means fans can be forgiven if the middle passages of "Going Under" and "Hunting Season" sound way too similar to each other. That said, however, this proves to be only a slight problem for the duo. After all, No Color wasn't meant to break any barriers: it's merely an affirmation of what people have known and loved about the duo for some time now. To the fans who stuck it out during Time to Die, this album may sound like the band is overcorrecting a bit, but in all honesty, overcorrection has never sounded so good.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.