Boston quartet Dopapod have excelled as a highly adventurous band for over a decade. By increasingly coagulating their blend of progressive rock, jam rock, funk, bluegrass, country rock, jazz, and more, they dish out wildly exploratory and catchy records brimming with technical finesse and lively, carefree personality. They take that chemistry even further on their self-titled seventh studio LP, which follows 2019’s Emit Time. Despite being a bit repetitious in spots, it’s an energizing, imaginative, and stylish collection that sees Dopapod genuinely coming into their own.
Dopapod aren’t known for taking lengthy breaks between albums, and while the three-year wait for Dopapod was far from extensive, it was larger than most prior gaps between releases. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic played a part, as it has for just about everything in popular culture since 2020. That said, and as the band explains, the break was “a necessary step [in general] for everybody to just step back and zoom out…. It was a restorative thing and helped us move forward.”
As much as the LP represents “a new chapter” for them, it also finds them returning to “this conceptual theme of time travel” that’s “peppered” certain songs from earlier records. Paradoxically, Dopapod tackles “being in the present moment”, too, so that it—like its predecessors—can represent “symmetrical” notions of “left-right and right-wrong”. Even the decision to self-title the collection relates to the foursome’s consensus that they’ve “realized their full potential in terms of music and vision”.
Speaking of the latter goals, Dopapod are making the release quite interactive and multisensory in a couple of ways. For one thing, they’ve partnered with Soundscape VR to premiere the entire LP through Magic Mirror on 26 May, with Discord holding a live chat between the band and attendees. It’s like a simulated dance club stuff with awesome people and music.
Equally remarkable—if not more so—is that the vinyl version unfolds to reveal a wholly functional and enjoyable board game. It “further explores the theme of time travel through a retrospective journey through the band’s discography.” Drummer Neal “For” Evans expounds: “You can hang out with your friends and play the game or play it alone. A lot of people don’t sit around and enjoy each other’s company like this anymore. We’re often just watching screens, so it’s cool to turn Dopapod into something more than just an album.”
Gratefully, those gimmicks only enhance what’s already an immensely compelling record, so there’s plenty to love about Dopapod in and of itself. Primarily, it allows the quartet to dig further into artistic stimuli and brethren like Phish, the Grateful Dead, Umphrey’s McGee, Disco Biscuits, Kindo, and Camel without compromising their individualistic appeal. Even pseudo prelude “Building a Time Machine” packs ample inventiveness, complexity, and playfulness into its two-minute runtime. It’s simultaneously aggressive, erratic, theatrical, melodic, and cosmic, making it the perfect way to welcome you to their musical madhouse.
That spirited and skillful flamboyance permeates a few other noteworthy tracks, including follow-up “Black Holes”, which is essentially one big tantalizing galactic party. Expanding upon Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” bassline, it juxtaposes folk-rock relaxation and hooks with spacey timbres and tricky counterpoints. Likewise, “Grow” and “Velcro” wear the jubilance of 1970s Stevie Wonder on their sleeves—and they’re all the better for it—whereas “Thinks” mixes the lighthearted virtuosity of Frank Zappa with the celestial gravity of IQ and classic Yes. Later, “Happy Accident” cleverly provides an abstract and surreal jazz collage as a prologue to the accessibly buoyant quasi-rockabilly closer, “Time Is Funny”.
Several other tunes also step away from overt intricacy and strangeness to focus on simpler and more easily approachable celebrations. In particular, “Fannie” unfolds with a leisurely pace, warm timbres, gentle vocals, and comforting lyrics about quaint romance. “Nuff” is comparably calming but with an emphasis on wordplay self-acceptance (“I do enough / I have enough / I am enough”), and “Ebb and Flow” houses lovely harmonies and a colorful synthesis of acoustic guitars and keyboards.
There aren’t any bad inclusions on the LP, but some of it tends to run together because the group sticks to two key compositional lanes. Specifically, the funky mellowness of “Made a Design” feels too common by the time you get to it, so it doesn’t stand out enough. This sense of familiarity covers much of the collection overall, so while each selection earns its place, the record could do more to distinguish its roughly dozen compositions during complete playthroughs.
By and large, Dopapod is another fabulous creation that solidifies Dopapod’s stylistic approach. It would surely benefit from heightened uniqueness and freshness at times, but even the pieces that run together are gratifying and admirable. It never outstays its welcome, either, resulting in a concise and focused journey worthy of immersion and repeated visits. The ancillary accouterments—the VR gathering and inspired board game—are the cherries on top, meaning that Dopapod is best consumed in its whole multidimensional form.