The Dodos turn 10 this year. The San Francisco indie rock duo met through mutual friends in San Francisco’s constant but widening music scene back in 2005. Meric Long was busy drafting lyric sheets and complex guitar parts, while Logan Kroeber was learning how to bring West African Ewe drumming into his rhythms. After a couple of stand-in shows and several jam sessions, the two realized they were more than just compatible — they challenged one another.
With five full-lengths behind them, the two began working on Individ immediately after wrapping up work on 2013’s Carrier, lured back to the studio with little pre-written material in hand. Perhaps it’s because Long was dealing with the death of his father, or maybe because both of them saw their longtime touring guitarist Chris Reimer pass away, but The Dodos let Individ nosedive into dark material. It’s laced with melodic bursts and euphoric explosions, but Long’s vocals tell of something gloomier, pained, real.
It opens with “Precipitation”, their toast to what’s to come. “Until now, there was a reason/ Let go of it/ It’s not relevant,” Long sings after eerie distortion rings out like a foghorn. Over the course of the next six minutes, Kroeber begins to pick up the pace, and the two sing over one another, passing from one cave to the next, hollowing out the sound until we’re spiraling forward into a burst of passionate fury. It’s hard not to feel immersed in their thoughts, disconnected and left to be jostled in a storm.
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The Dodos push through their inner turmoil by means of dizzying tempos and layered guitars, much of which recalls their early sound on Visiter. Thee Oh Sees’ Brigid Dawson steps in on closer “Pattern Shadows” to bring back that album’s feminine allure. The same acoustic guitar from that session comes back out, and its weird, dissonant tuning can be heard in the forefront of “Goodbyes and Endings”. There’s a writhing in Long’s vocals, a man chained to his past who’s desperate to part with it, and it surrounds the listener. It’s a dialogue where both parties are asking for help.
Depending on how you look at it, Victor Cayro’s cover art shows one of two things: a man pushing through a greater force, breaking its seal in heroic fashion, or a man pushing against a greater force, struggling to keep it at bay. Individ is both. On lead single “Competition”, Long and Kroeber pump fuel into a sporadic overflow of anxiety. As fast and happy as it initially sounds, the winding guitar line wails sarcastically, spiraling out of hand into a panic attack. If they can’t push themselves to the point of bursting, what’s the point? Ten years into their career, The Dodos are still juggling their old emotions while snatching up even more. The trick isn’t to impress the crowd. It’s to impress themselves. Individ sees The Dodos once again acting as their own harshest critics in the wake of darkness.
Essential Tracks: “Competition”, “Precipitation”, and “Goodbyes and Endings”