The first five songs on the Dodos new album, No Color, truly give the impression that the band is racing you at full speed. And they’re winning. The drums are pounding, the guitars are strumming, and new sounds are filling the air – Neko Case’s backup vocals and frenetic strings are immediate welcome additions to the Dodos’ sound. The opening gunshot drum clash of “Black Night” kicks off the marathon and the Dodos sprint through an incredibly solid five tunes with ease, the energy and relentless pace making up for the occasional lack of a catchy hook.
The Dodos – “Black Night”
And then, a funny thing happens on tracks six, seven, and eight. The Dodos get tired. They wear out. They forget to pace themselves. “When Will You Go” forces the surprising mid-song change that made the first batch so entertaining, unsure of whether it wants to be a soft ballad or a hypnotic trancer. “Hunting Season” finds vocalist Meric Long continuing to sing in his low, brooding tone and not the cheery, upper-octave one he sings so wonderfully in and captures so much emotion with. “Companions” is lifeless and dull.
Finally, the band gets its second wind with the exciting “Don’t Stop,” powering through the finish line with a solid, top-heavy, inconsistent album filled with very good songs and weak songs that just doesn’t feel full.
The Dodos – “Don’t Stop”
On this record, the Dodos find themselves down to two members: Meric Long provides the vocals and complex guitar pickings, and Logan Kroeber supplies the hard-pounding, unrelenting drum beats. Gone is vibraphonist Keaton Snyder. Also gone is producer Phil Ek (known for his work with The Shins and Band of Horses) of the duller, over-polished Time To Die, and back in the studio with the duo is John Askew, who produced the band’s 2008 Visiter.
The rawness and unpredictability of Visiter is certainly present throughout No Color, which is full of complex guitar strumming and jarring rhythm changes. The band also makes wiser use of the polish and production flair that failed to make a mark on Time To Die, with the pulsating strings of “Good” and “Sleep” being a prime example.
The Dodos – “Sleep”
“Sleep” notably has a wonderfully cinematic feel; if the guitar was slowed down it wouldn’t sound out of place on the Juno soundtrack. It’s one of the only songs (if not the only song) on the album that matches the beauty of such memorable Dodos tracks as “Fools” and “Walking.”
The addition of Neko Case on backup vocals is another representation of these strong new accompaniments to the Dodos’ sound. Case’s beautiful, cheerful voice perfectly layers the songs that need that extra kick – she’s especially great on the aforementioned “Sleep,” “Don’t Try and Hide It,” and “Going Under,” nicely complementing Long’s lower-register vocals.
Unfortunately, even with Neko Case, strings, and a large dosage of energy and unpredictability, No Color is not a great album, just a really interesting (and yes, really good) one, weighed down by a major three-track lull. As with both Time To Die and Visiter, The Dodos have yet again crafted an album with moments of brilliance and hypnotic melodies that get stuck in your head, but not a complete album that can stand on its own and demand repeated full listens. The second wind that propels the band through the hyper album closer “Don’t Stop” certainly makes No Color a winning album overall – but the band still hasn’t hit its peak. Here’s to hoping The Dodos pace themselves better next time.
Don’t forget that you can download album track “Don’t Stop” here.