There’s an audacity to resilience that is rarely talked about, but is integral to the struggle of moving forward in spite of heavy odds. It is at the heart of the myth of Sisyphus, who Camus argued must find happiness in his eternally fruitless task to retain his personhood and sanity. By imbuing his punishment with joy and purpose (Camus likened rolling the boulder to the overall absurdity and pure meaninglessness of human existence), Sisyphus could overcome the unfair will of the gods, even in damnation. He could create his own meaning, which is a truly singular gift of humanity.
When the Dodos recorded 2013’s Carrier, it was in response to having lost their friend and collaborator Christopher Reimer in 2012. Every chord, lyric and minute of Carrier was, in some ways, a eulogy: here was no way around it, losing Reimer was going to end up in the DNA of that album. Their follow-up, Individ, is no less influenced by Reimer’s death in the way that a ripple is a direct result of a breeze or a rock, but it occupies the other end of the spectrum. If Carrier was a meditation on loss, Individ is a bold cry of life, with the duo returning to take inventory of themselves. It is full of energy, poetry, and release.
One of the most striking elements of Individ is how producers Ian and Jay Pellicci have managed to strip away the Dodos’ studio sound. As part of their growth from 2008’s Visiter to 2011’s No Color, the band added a lot of sonic bloat to round themselves out. It was an odd practice, considering the success of the duo’s original formula of strong percussive guitar over a sparse yet varied drum kit. Whether it was the label switch to Polyvinyl from Frenchkiss or the unavoidable push of the reset button that follows death, Carrier marked a honing in on what enchanted listeners with the Dodos in the first place: the ebb and flow between two risktakers.
Individ, recorded with the Pellicci brothers almost immediately after their sessions for Carrier, adds playfulness back to the mix. If Carrier was an exhalation or a sigh of decompression, Individ is the first sharp breath in that affirms your being here and reestablishes your presence. There’s a lot of energy on this record, particularly on tracks like “Retriever” and “Goodbyes and Endings” which sound like they came from the same creative juice behind much of Visiter. Of course, expecting that a band recreate their breakthrough record throughout their careers is not fair or feasible – growth and change happen for better or for worse. Yet these are the songs in which Meric Long and Logan Kroeber sound most at home. Not many bands can create an aesthetic that is wholly theirs, one that demands continued exploration beyond its introduction and sustains interest over a decade. Each Dodos album is worth checking out simply because the band seems to be as dedicated as its most diehard fans to rediscovering their original spark.
Somehow, this still makes for diverse output, specifically in Long’s approach to lyrics. On Visiter standout “Fools”, it seemed the wordier the better. It was the fashion of the time, certainly, but Long has been nothing if not a little mouthy over the bulk of his career. Individ finds him choosing his phrasing much more wisely, bordering on poetry. Rather than spin his verbal wheels saying the same thing in different ways, Long now opts for the repetition of carefully chosen words to clarify his meaning. Opener “Precipitation” benefits greatly from this new approach and also sets the expectations for Individ: “And what now that we are over / What storm ahead / Could we precipitate?” plays like an acknowledgement of having just come off of the emotionally taxing Carrier, while “And what now that we are over it / Just storm ahead / Don’t ever hesitate” stands as Individ‘s mission statement. The metaphorical storm also resonates as a reference to the cover of Carrier, whose tornado in the distance is an important allusion. Also wonderful about the band jumping into recording Individ with both feet is that Long’s decompression happens in the moment, pulling the listener in with a sense of immediacy and present-tense relativity. “Tend to always over prepare / Too ready / Too ready / Let go of it / And get out of here / Let’s get out of here / For good” frames the album as an eager embarkment.
In every corner of this album, resilience presents itself as the constant theme. Lyrically, this takes the form of questioning the dedication, strength and presence of Long and those around him. Sometimes these challenges come from a darker impetus; “Competition” details a complex internal struggle where those closest to Long are referred to as “My friend, my foe” and his relationships are plagued by questions of “If I help you / Is it helping me?” In returning to the rhythms and tones at the core of their chemistry, Long and Kroeber’s instrumentation provides another shade of resilience. By continuing their journey down the rabbit hole, Individ presents the duo as tireless seekers, men of action who are not tempted by the easy way out. The Dodos still have something to say, and because they are still not finished with their growth, their albums are vibrant and alive at their core.
And, of course, there is the resilience of the album’s sheer existence. This is perhaps the most exciting element of Individ; knowing the story behind the album’s creation helps the listener develop a fondness for it. Having a sense of the reactionary nature of the recording process and how necessary it was for Long and Kroeber to break from the heaviness of Carrier heightens the critical importance of this album. Overall, this complicates the listener’s objectivity, but the necessity of objectivity might be overrated. Isn’t it enough that this band had a strange opportunity to push through the last of their grieving and instead of bowing to sadness and pressure and gravitas, they made sure to immediately capture their first real chance to have fun on record? The fact that you can listen to this album, and that it exists for you to do so, is remarkable on it’s own; the four guys who created it may never find themselves so willing to take those risks again, because the driving force behind it was so carnal.
Most of the criticism of their output post-Visiter has been that by relentlessly chasing after their own sound, the Dodos haven’t broken any new ground that is as interesting as their first impulses. This might be a flaw in the design, but it also rings true of Individ‘s most exciting moments. The gravitational pull of what these two do best together has also paradoxically threatened stagnation. Individ, however, seems like it is more about shaking the dust than breaking the mold which, considering its place in the band’s timeline, is necessary, even if it doesn’t totally satiate the listener. I’ve found myself restarting the album immediately after listening to it, though it absolutely rewards this practice by unfolding new facets of itself with every pass through. In this way, Individ plays like an incredible appetizer, but at some point you become hungry for the main course. Whenever the next album comes, you get the sense that the band will build vertically off of Individ rather than continue their familiar pattern of horizontal growth.
Although the Dodos haven’t had an objectively bad album to date, this might be the first great album they’ve had in a while. Where this will take the duo has yet to be seen, but there’s something energetically hopeful in the last seconds: closer “Pattern/Shadow” ends on a one beat instead of on the preceding four beat, keeping the listener primed for what’s to come.