Release Date: Aug 27, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Review Summary: Why won't you be where I want you to be?The Dodos have always fascinated me, but it was something I could never put my finger on. When Visiter stormed up my end-of-year list in 2008, it was unlike anything I had heard before: a thrilling, whacky stew of polyrhythms and frantic acoustics, built around impatient time signatures and the measured vocals of Meric Long, wrapping himself around syllables as if he had all the time in the world. Their music was always more a feeling than a text, and it was this sort of inscrutable something that pulled me in.
Carrier finds The Dodos continuing to refine their music with a new focus on electric guitar, while simultaneously returning to the balance of Meric Long’s soft melodic vocals and acoustic guitar fingerpicking punctuated by Logan Kroeber’s drumming that defined their earlier sound. Less sonically aggressive than 2011’s No Color, the lyrics on Carrier stand as the most meaningful in their catalog, making their newest album stand once again as the band’s best yet. .
Loss is something so utterly profound that, in spite of every one of us being affected by it and sharing similar experiences, it’s ultimately something so individual that we’ll never quite grasp how it affects anyone other than ourselves. Through music, though, we’re often given an insight into how someone’s feeling through a record or a series of songs. Neil Young and Crazy Horse gave us Tonight’s the Night following the death of guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, while Dave Grohl gave us Foo Fighters after Kurt Cobain passed on.
In view of how rapidly the musical landscape adapts to whatever’s making any sort of critical or cultural impact, it’s expected to assume that anything that doesn’t follow those grounds will automatically be deemed as insignificant. Where does that leave a duo like the Dodos, who continue to march forward without showing any signs of shifting their polyrhythmic brand of folk. Granted, the San Francisco duo has always sounded out of time and out of place.
The most surprising thing about Carrier is that it’s surprising at all. The Dodos have never been notorious shape-shifters. They mastered their craft back in 2008 with the disobedient, frenetic folk record Visiter, and since then they’ve been touching up elements of their sound—going electric, but going it unnoticed—while editing down its excess.
Unfortunately, there's quite a large elephant in the room that must be addressed before discussing and doing proper justice to Carrier, and that is the death of former guitarist Christopher Reimer. Reimer was not with the band terribly long, however, one can easily hear the echoes of his talents on the record; the guitar work intricately twists in and out of loops, forming delicate yet distinctive phrases that harken back to Reimer's previous work with Women. While it's obvious that Reimer has left a great impression on the band, Carrier never feels like a tribute to the man - rather a faithful adoption and adaptation of a style the Dodos were clearly stricken with; and through this adoption, The Dodos have released what is at once perhaps their most interesting, strangest and even most concise work to date.
2008’s Visiter helped San Francisco’s The Dodos break out and stand above other indie rock acts using urgent, tribal drumming, perhaps even placing them among Animal Collective in terms of sheer innovation. Yet, 2009’s Time To Die and 2011’s No Color were disappointing follow-ups with inconsistent songs that were fun but unmemorable at best and boring at worst. Now, however, the band has unleashed Carrier, a collection of songs both thematically and musically multi-layered, the themes inspired by the death of former tour guitarist (and former Women guitarist) Christopher Reimer and the music adopting non-traditional time signatures, mirroring the complex feelings associated with loss.
Twenty-six-year-old guitarist Christopher Reimer, formerly of the Calgary band Women, may have only been affiliated with the Dodos for a short time when he unexpectedly passed away last year, but his death still informs the funereal tone of the band's fifth album, Carrier. Rather than wallow in sullen dirges, though, the San Francisco duo infuses their earnest reflections on mortality with a kinetic energy. Apparently not one to shy away from an insoluble riddle, singer Meric Long opens with the broad question “What is a song?” and then, as if it's a natural follow-up, “What is love?” on “Transformer.
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.
The Dodos know something about push and pull. They come at you viciously, screaming guitars and rushed pacing, tying your heart in knots. Then they withdraw, gently floating into acoustic wonderment, a fragile and vulnerable state. It's tension, it's unease, it's bliss, it's joy..
Notwithstanding the success of 2011?s No Color, an album which broke The Dodos into the Billboard Hot 100, the San Francisco duo abruptly ditched Frenchkiss Records with the hopes of “trying something new. ? Carrier was recorded at John Vanderslice?s Tiny Telephone studios, they swapped out longtime sound engineer John Askew for co-producers Jay and Ian Pellicci, and they signed on with Polyvinyl Records. According to singer/songwriter/guitarist Meric Long, all these changes combat ?feeling a bit rooted.
Written and recorded after the death of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber's friend and touring guitarist Chris Reimer, Dodos' Carrier is neither funereal nor a celebratory wake, but a little bit of both. It begins with Long wondering on "Transformer," "What is a song? What is love?" as he reflects on the impact people have on each other. Later, on "Substance," it's equally jubilant and poignant when he sings "You will forget/And I will remember." Understandably, Carrier is more subdued than their previous album, the bold, counterintuitively named No Color, and the band downplays Kroeber's dramatic percussion on most of these songs.
Maybe it’s a little bit too simplistic to look to the death of touring Dodos guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012 to explain the air of moroseness that permeates ‘Carrier’, the San Francisco band’s fifth album. It seems like an especially trite assumption when songs like ‘Substance’ and ‘Relief’ are infused as much with ambience as they are with the subtly mournful vocals of singer/guitarist Meric Long, who helms the band with drummer Logan Kroeber. But wherever they’re sourcing their inspiration from, it’s working.
The titles of the previous three Dodos records-- Visiter, Time to Die, No Color-- provide an unfortunate and eerie foreshadowing for the band’s fifth LP Carrier. It’s the San Francisco duo’s most subdued and solemn album, inspired by the passing of guitarist Christopher Reimer, who joined Dodos for a brief period between his departure from Women and his death at the age of 26 in 2012. Though Reimer doesn’t play on Carrier, he’s a spiritual and musical inspiration that guides Meric Long and Logan Kroeber throughout, an incorporeal third member that still holds the most influence over the record’s direction.
During the tour for 2011's No Color, the Dodos welcomed 26-year-old Calgary guitarist Chris Reimer of the band Women as an official member. He didn't get to record with the San Francisco band before his tragic death last year, but much like the wider indie rock world, the Dodos, on Carrier, are still assimilating his influence. The duo's strength formerly lay in stretching the acoustic guitar vocabulary by way of off-kilter math-rock/indie-folk, but on their fifth album they've finally gone electric.
The Dodos have always had the ability to write phenomenal music—that much is clear from their mass of earlier material—but Carrier might be the first time they’ve had the emotional weight to match. It immediately feels different from what followers of the band might identify as a typical “Dodos album”; its melancholy feels more directed, its oeuvre more focused. It has a distinct atmosphere, the songs and music in service to something greater than the pieces conjure on their own.
‘Carrier’, the fifth album from The Dodos, is a tribute of sorts. A creation borne of grief, a product of coping, or perhaps a toast to a departed friend - in 2011, Chris Reimer, touring guitarist, died in his sleep. The Dodos’ Meric Long says he reassessed his writing process after working with Reimer, and ‘Carrier’ is the first record where his songs began life on an electric guitar rather than acoustic.It’s a step away from the indie-folk of 2011’s ‘No Colour’, but not a departure from the band’s core sound.
The Dodos have never been an easy band to categorize, and yet it’s likely they prefer it that way. As with certain forebears – Steely Dan comes to most immediately to mind – they generally opt for the unusual, foregoing likelier pop mores in the process. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call them “prog” per se, but the overall intelligence and indulgence in their music – and the imaginative arrangements that accompany it — attests to their elevated mindset.