On their first two albums, Beware Of The Freaks and Visiter, The Dodos produced a style of music that was generally termed ‘folk’, but Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, who play guitar and drums respectively, are two such people with the minds and musical ability to think outside of that box. Though they had classic folk elements – strummed and plucked acoustic guitar, playful lyrics about ordinary people – they also had a certain edge within their music that had a lot to do with Kroeber’s unique drum patterns which often sounded like they were playing a secondary tune rather than a simple beating a rhythm. For their third album, Time To Die, they went for a more straightforward approach, pushing for more hooks and more conventional song structure. What resulted was a more serious affair where electric guitar largely replaced acoustic and perhaps most disappointingly Kroeber seemed neutered on drums. His intricate drumming had been replaced by more straight-forward patterns, resulting in a loss of his exceptional sound.
From the opening, pounding drums on first track “Black Night” it is evident that Kroeber is back to his usual business. His rhythms shift and drive the song in militaristic fashion with bullet-like drum fills, a display of some of the finest drum work in modern music. This exemplary drumming is uniform across No Color and not only is it exciting and interesting to listen to, but it allows Long on guitar to couple his parts with the drums in more expansive ways than we’ve ever heard from the partnership. Rather than just adding simple acoustic guitar to the songs, Long doubles up. He accomplishes this by forming a base with the acoustic then adding more depth and dynamics with fuzzed out electric guitar on top. The extra guitar also adds a lot of personality too, often rearing its fuzzy head at a moment of tension in a song. For example, it comes in with violent interjections between lyrics in “Going Under,” seemingly reflecting the undercurrent of tension in Long’s lyrics, as he sings pessimistically about losing patience with someone, and then eventually the electric explodes fully into the song for the climax when Long has lost patience entirely.
Just by looking at the names of the albums by The Dodos you can tell that they’ve become more desolate thematically. “Going Under” is just one example of the bleaker outlook found on this album, which is seemingly a continuation of the psyche that went into the lyrics on Time To Die. However, whereas songs such as “This Is A Business” on Time To Die were delivered straight up with the utmost sincerity, the melodies on No Color give a playfulness to their pessimism, which adds to the enjoyment for the listener.
The taut musical and lyrical trickery that drives tracks like “Black Night,” “Going Under,” “Good” and “Don’t Stop” is the real highlight here, but in between are more straightforward songs. These may not provide such an engrossing listen, but the much-touted guest vocals of Neko Case become much more evident in them. “Don’t Try And Hide It” and “Sleep” are fairly pedestrian folk-pop songs, but with Case’s additional yelping bolstering the infectious vocal melodies the songs become successes. Only the album’s penultimate track, “Companions,” which lacks both a noteworthy drum rhythm and a genuine hook, is worthy of skipping.
It could be argued that with only two people in your band it is easier to drastically shift your sound than if you have more members, because fewer minds have to share the same vision. Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have taken a different approach; instead they’ve decided to nestle into their natural habitat and see how much room for manoeuvre there is. The answer is, honestly, not that much, but the new directions that they have managed to find on No Color are certainly interesting to explore for listeners.