Frenchkiss, 2009

Even if you’ve never heard a Dodos song before, you’ll feel like you have after about fifteen seconds. Their sound is a bit paradoxical, both familiar and unique, with a kind, welcoming tone that remains strangely distant. What ultimately makes the San Francisco-based trio so special is what they do with this traditional sound, the way they take a common folk melody and expound upon it.

This is what made 2008’s Visiter so good, eventually landing The Dodos on the indie music map and many critics’ top album lists for 2008. Their song “Fools” was even featured in an American beer commercial. So how does a band follow all of this success up for their sophomore album?  Make an even better record the next year.

In many ways, Time To Die is the opposite of Visiter. It’s a nine track, forty-five minute album as opposed to a sprawling fourteen-track and over sixty minute affair. Time To Die is intimate and introverted, both musically and thematically, dealing with judgement, suicide and death (as the title would have you believe), while Visiter was bombastic and proud and often built its songs around bold instrumentals and storytelling. Yet both are unquestionably Dodos’ music. This time around, the songs are constructed from the inside-out, but the quality of the craft remains the same.

Just about every song opens with a guitar, mostly acoustic. These are built-up with arpeggios and softened with vibraphone and Meric Long’s steady vocals. Gentle percussion rounds out the band’s minimalist sound with occasional bass and semi-acoustic guitars swapped with the other instruments along the way. The limited set as well as the band’s small size keeps the sound intrinsic while Long’s melodies and development keep it from becoming boring.  In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint album highlights when each of the songs are so charming. They play like nine movements in a folk/rock concerto, comprising an album that’s bigger than any of its singular parts.

It’s not uncommon for a band to release back-to-back albums in consecutive years, especially if they have an excess of work leftover from the previous record. What is uncommon, however, is for a band to have two strong albums be so diverse and so fulfilling within such a short period of time. Most acts would love to have a record as strong as either Visiter or Time To Die just once in their lives, and The Dodos have already made them both, and in only two years, and for just their first and second efforts. This is surely an anomaly for any musicians in any genre and should leave many fans and listeners wondering what The Dodos could possibly do to trump their first two albums.