The morbid title of The Dodos’ latest album, Time To Die, would be more appropriately attached to the latest release from Slayer, and the sleeve is most kindly described as ‘autumnal’ or, less kindly, as ‘manure-y’. And yet this most unprepossessing of packages houses some of the year’s most welcoming music – accessible, consistently tuneful and devoid of patience-testing filler.
The Dodos’ previous release, 2008’s Visiter, was something of a sprawl: its 14 tracks varied wildly in length and the band’s signature galloping folk-rock was occasionally roughened up by moments of lo-fi atonality. By contrast, Time To Die is a concise, focused work, one which sees Visiter’s folk-pop sharpened incisively to a fine point.
Time To Die is played mostly on acoustic instruments, yet this is an album that rocks. The thrills can be attributed to the band’s exceptional grasp of dynamics: every note here has a clear purpose, and each track is carries itself forward with propulsive momentum. Opener Small Deaths moves effortlessly through three movements – the first a melody of campfire-friendly familiarity, the next a passage of fretboard-molesting noise, and finally a rousing, arms-round-the-shoulders sing-along.
Compared to the music’s ambitious complexity, Meric Long’s voice couldn’t be more conventional; a perfect amalgam of every polite, white, male indie-pop singer who’s ever lived, the keynotes being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins‘ James Mercer and – to pull a more obscure name out of the hat – Miles Kurosky of Beulah. Yet Long’s vocals eventually reveal themselves as another weapon in The Dodos’ armoury, providing a creamy counterbalance to the music’s piquant tricksiness.
On an album this consistent it’s hard to pick out clear highlights, but a trio of songs eventually shuffle bashfully into the spotlight. The curiously-titled Troll Nacht moves from delicate, folky verses to a huge chorus that lesser acts would have doused in musical bombast. On Two Medicines, Long’s vocals perform a flirtatious duet with a tinkling vibraphone – it’s the aural equivalent of a puppy lapping your earlobes. Acorn Factory, meanwhile, might be the album’s most straightforward song yet it suffers not a jot in comparison to the other tracks, being a tumbling acoustic lament of immense beauty.
A substantial portion of the credit for The Dodos’ heightened discipline must be directed towards the ever-reliable producer Phil Ek, who’s overseen some of the best American indie releases of the past 15 years. Indeed Time To Die, with its frequent tempo changes and musical virtuosity, often resembles an unamplified version of a much earlier Ek production, Built To Spill‘s 1997 prog-indie masterpiece Perfect From Now On.
Time To Die is an album which complements perfectly other recent ‘marquee’ releases such as the Fleet Foxes‘ debut and Grizzly Bear‘s Veckatimest. It’ll also complement perfectly the most mundane daily activity: your commute may never be the same again. This is, truly, an album worthy of obsession.