Listeners new to The Dodos may recognize their song “Fools,” from their 2008 breakout album “Visiter,” from a recent Miller Chill commercial. Aptly, their echoey new album, “Time to Die,” sounds like they recorded in a beer bottle.
The indie folk-pop duo’s signature spare sound, with drums and guitar receiving equal billing, have made “Visiter” a standout in a line of releases from other over-arranged indie darlings. Their percussive approach added a twist to a pleasant, but unoriginal, pop formula. Unfortunately, their new album deviates from their previous work and plops them back in the queue.
The band’s third outing, “Time to Die” features a fuller sound, in part because The Dodos are now a trio. New member Keaton Snyder’s vibraphone augments Long’s vocals and acoustic guitar, as well as Kroeber’s drums. The xylophone-like instrument contributes to the Dodo’s new, more complex musical approach, but it is not the only culprit.
In addition to the added vibraphone, producer Phil Ek (Built to Spill, The Shins) establishes a more layered sound. Though this results in the best Dodos record for headphones, the thicker sound is disappointingly inorganic. The enveloping blanket contains some interesting elements, but Kroeber’s drums almost disappear into the background wash of noise. Throughout the album, sterile tones fill what would have been silences in their earlier work. Keaton’s addition heralds a fuller and admittedly more echoey version of their previous style, but it detracts from the band’s originally interesting simplicity.
The added effects attempt, and fail, to hide fairly shoddy song writing. “Time to Die” is not as tuneful as “Visiter” and their new sonic elements, though adventurous, fail to be as intriguing as the catchy melodies of their former work. “Fables” comes closest with an almost infectious chorus: “I don’t want to go in the fire / I just want to stay in my home / I don’t want to hear all the liars / I just want to be with my own.” But, as with the rest of the album, everything is fuzzed and echoed out, from the drums to the voices.
“The Strums” is the most representative of the album’s weaknesses: pleasant to listen to but sonically overcrowded. The sheer number of guitar layers overwhelms the listener and makes a mess of the song; without any tangible forward direction, the song flags easily. The extra noise feels baroque for its own sake and contributes nothing, making “The Strums” forgettable.
However, “Time to Die” improves with repeated exposure, as illustrated in “Small Deaths.” The first time around, the song seems overlong and disjointed. But after a second go, the song’s centerpiece emerges as inherently listenable, in the fashion of “Red and Purple,” off “Visiter.”
“This Is A Business” eschews the snail-pace that many of the other songs fall into. Also to its credit, its arc is the most emergent of the set. But its experimental tuning and discordant guitar work nearly negates a brief, but shining, moment of Beatlesque pop. Unfortunately the middle of the song goes off into a slow, jarring tangent, and the song’s momentum is stymied by unnecessary noodlings.
Because Long often gives in to experimental impulses, the songs on “Time to Die” are entirely too long, averaging around four and a half minutes with the longest, “Troll Nacht,” clocking in at over six. The length, combined with a persistent background of confused reverberations, makes it hard to focus on any one song, but well-suited for background music.
However grandiose their ambitions, this album shows the Dodos struggling to find their place in an already crowded niche of merely inoffensive indie-pop; “Time to Die” is pleasant to listen to, but Arcade Fire does it too and with more chutzpah.
—Staff writer Candace I. Munroe can be reached at email@example.com.