Music Reviews

The Dodos Individ

(Polyvinyl Records) Rating - 7/10

A simple trip to an online dictionary reveals a Latin etymological history behind the word Individ, a disarming abbreviation that evolved from individuum — “an indivisible thing.” The conspicuous title of The Dodos’ new full-length aptly suggests two factors at work this time around; that the veteran duo plans on soldiering their music forth in a statement of rampant identity and individualism, and that each track should not be considered without close attention to the entirety of the record. That self-affirming spirit is woven into the pair’s sonic tapestry with rough-and tumble snare hits and the jagged crunch of a Fender Jazzmaster to dizzying, sometimes overwhelming effect. Pursuing the lure of the muse-like impetus that drove the meditative, but ultimately disappointing Carrier, frontman Meric Long now seems restless and agitated. Given that he once asserted “the best time to make a record is right after you've finished one,” it is no surprise that anxious rumination and energized self-doubt plague the subject matter of an album that materialized less than year and a half later.

Opener Precipitation eschews the translucent clarity of their previous outing, trading in measured atmospheric riffs for rugged distortion and opacity. Noise guitar swells introduce irregular time signatures and dark loops navigate a rabid forest of distorted static and toms until a maelstrom of molten guitar explodes into a latter half that would give J Mascis a run for his money. These chaotic moments, despite their aspirations, are unfortunately constrained by muddy production and anti-climatic vocal melodies that leave the listener frustrated. Meric does  finally find his footing in the concluding refrain of this song, but by then the track’s pounding crescendo ends abruptly. Noise remains a constant motif on Individ — as if producers Jay and Ian Pellicci intentionally grimed up The Dodos' new boisterous soundscape with the same digital clipping and distortion that inspired scorn in audiophiles after Iggy Pop’s infamous 1997 remix of Raw Power. Admittedly, this approach is marginally successful on a handful of the louder moments on the record, including the anthemic Pattern/Shadow and the horn-laden Goodbyes and Endings — but the drunken march and weary prose of Bastard is nearly ruined by the over-aestheticized low fidelity of the recording. The extremity of such an application may have rendered Deerhunter’s Monomania turgid pleasure, but The Dodos’ tepid use of lo-fi distortion only indicates hesitancy in committing fully to the harshness of the genre. Instead of diving into the bloodbath of noise rock reverence, they wade in the shallow end as passive onlookers.

In spite of their obvious choice to deviate from past creative undertakings, the duo hasn’t thrown out all of the acoustic pop sensibilities that made their 2008 album, Visiter, so endearing and pervasive. The galloping snare and pounding toms that collude with the contorted oscillation of a tremolo guitar on The Tide provide the jagged backdrop for one of Long’s most playful vocal melodies in recent memory. Even in its relentless build, the group introduces a cascade of descending melody lines that shower the listener in an abrasive, hook-laden chorus. Tepid lyrical questioning rife with indecision hold the distorted layering taut over the course of its runtime, the closing vocal chant echoing, “Is this the right time, or should I wait for it?” in between icy blasts of chime-like effects pedals. The Tide is the clear standout on the album, the song that the majority of Individ attempts to emulate, but never quite succeeds in doing.

Several tracks get close, however. Competition, the first single off of the new album, relies on parallel walls of rich, angular chords and breakneck strumming, sparsely augmented by Ronald Jones inspired slide playing and Long’s chambered vocal layering. While the song lacks the straight-forward song structure and incendiary buildup that would progress the track forward, the complexity of the rhythm guitar ensnares the listener. The fuzzed out tap-fest that chugs under the “aahs” of Retriever’s child-like assonance, fortified by watery vocal manipulation, syncopates to Kroeber’s clever drum-play like cogs in a well-greased machine. The chemistry between the two rises above the clockwork of the moment, reminding us why these indie-rock veterans continue assert their relevance in an over-saturated market in which music listeners ravenously consume albums and promptly forget about them. 

It is telling that the release of Viet Cong’s self-titled debut full-length falls on the same week as the band’s sixth album. Both have indirect ties through an intermediary, the late Christopher Reimer. Having left his bandmates in Women behind, the guitarist toured briefly with The Dodos before passing away in 2012. Ex-members of Women Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace’s newest project, along with The Dodos’ latest affair, have both poetically reemerged from the turmoil of the last few years, reinvigorated with the spirit of raucous endangerment and courageous exploration. However, creative energy is an ineffable engine of change — a transcendent experience that remains fleeting, yet can be said to permeate the length of gestation long enough to see the birth of a work of art. The method in which musicians decide to channel their tapped well of inspiration may very well be guided by the individualism that The Dodos champion. But one thing cannot be denied — forethought and self-editing are a necessity. While Individ is marked with the frantic momentum of an inspired studio creation, it ultimately suffers under the weight of its boldness and reckless abandon.