Since the mid-2000s, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber (aka The Dodos) have made a name for themselves by fashioning sparse instrumentation into a battalion of indie-folk freak-outs. In doing so, they’ve created their own brand of sound—a portfolio of inventive percussion, frantic guitar strumming, convoluted fingerpicking, incessant drumming, reflective lyrics and all sorts of bursts and changes and shifts in tempo and time signature. It’s an approach that can feel more like a mission statement than a mere musical sensibility, because The Dodos have ultimately succeeded in no longer sounding like anyone other than themselves. It’s an impressive feat when you think about it, and it’s one that’s been built on the duo’s unabashed love for making a lot out of a little, nurturing smoldering melodies into cathartic transformations, ascensions and recessions.
However, to effectively translate the vitality so naturally captured in the studio to the stage, the duo needed a supporting cast of touring members—most notably the late Chris Reimer, best known for his work in the indie-rock outfit Women. Reimer, a guitarist who had earned a reputation for his own style and sound, had a significant impact on Long’s songwriting process. But with Reimer’s tragic death last year at age 26, Long was forced to stop and reexamine where the new music stood. He went back to the drawing board, scrapping everything and starting over entirely, with lessons learned from Reimer in tow (e.g., having the patience to let a song develop and harboring a judgment-free enthusiasm for sound).
The result of that soul-searching is the fifth Dodos LP, Carrier, which is dedicated to Reimer. But while Long did modify his writing process for the album—things like penning the lyrics before the music and picking up his electric before his acoustic to craft a song (both firsts for him)—Carrier maintains the Dodos’ signature style and is therefore refreshingly familiar: heartfelt and sincere, organic and smart, imaginative and exploratory. Once more, the Dodos have constructed complex song structures of unique guitarwork layered with outside-the-box percussion. They’re the kind of band that takes the user’s manual and hurls it to the curb. Songs like “Substance” feature a slather of cymbals, drum beats and electric guitar before dissolving into melodic, melancholic acoustic strings that weave in and out of one another at the finale; meanwhile, tracks like “Confidence” and “Relief” start out with tinkered picking and plucking before breaking into a swarm of distortion and drums.
But while Carrier possesses many of the same idiosyncrasies that make The Dodos’ records such intriguing and involved listening experiences, the album also shows new impulses. Tracks like “Holidays,” “Family” and “Death” stay more or less consistent from start to finish—uncharacteristic of the bipolar tendencies so frequently found on Dodos albums. But that doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional. Instead, whether directly or indirectly, they’re indicative of Reimer’s influence on the band. They are miniature exercises in temperament and restraint—of patience and commitment to sticking to an idea for an extended amount of time. While the changes may be small (and while Reimer’s influence certainly permeates other aspects of the album as well), they very well could open new doors to The Dodos, leading them down new hallways. In fact, the duo has already begun working on a “sequel” to the album.
Carrier is the sound of starting over, of finding your footing after the world has shaken you to the core. It’s the sound of revisiting something after a life-altering experience and not seeing it in exactly the same light. It’s the sound of returning to the life you had before, only to find that it’s not the way you left it—that it’s been forever changed somehow. It’s the sound of getting your bearings and settling down, of going back home, only to decide that something different needs to happen, even if it’s minimal or subdued or transitory. The Dodos’ tried-and-true approach and execution is far too strong and compelling to abandon, but by amending it ever so slightly on Carrier, they’ve realized something worth documenting. And it’s certainly worth listening to.