The Dodos: “No Color”

Courtesy of Frenchkiss Records

Despite the seeming lack of saturation implied by the title of their latest album “No Color,” the Dodos have actually added a few hues and tipped the coloration scales in their favor.

Though this album, (their fourth) dials back the overtly folky influence found on 2006’s “Beware of the Maniacs,” this San Francisco based folk-rock duo does well to keep up the heavy percussiveness and light acoustic guitar pairings of their last release, 2009’s “Time to Die.” Though they have picked up the sounds left by that last album, they are by no means stopping short in terms of expansion. On the contrary, with “No Color,” the duo has brilliantly blossomed from that heavy acoustic duality, as well as manifesting a very welcomed expansion of their musical palette.

The Dodos waste no time establishing overall tones of the album. “Black Night,” the album’s first track, qualifies extensively as the aforementioned aural blossom, featuring those same heavy-handed percussive elements below a fingerpicked acoustic pattern. One of the distinct changes here is the addition of electric guitar, and though kept in the background, the barely caged electricity foreshadows a more whole usage later in the album. Though it is subtle in this song, the background distortion and electric guitar is given a few moments of unabashed prominence in the second track.

Slamming straight into “Going Under,” the album heaps on another serving of those same crashing sounds accompanying guitarist Meric Long’s warbling vocals. Gradually ascending its energy, the song delivers at the zenith of its intensity one brief but acutely fierce trill of electricity accompanying a heavily distorted coat of crashing guitar. This is often how the electric guitar is used on the album, taking the background to subtly elevate the energy of a given song or becoming prominent to give a percussive blast the extra push it needs.

Tugging in a seemingly opposite direction is the prominence of strings on the album, orchestral influences no doubt stemming from the duo’s recent involvement with the Magik*Magik Orchestra. These more cultivated moments of the album come to the foreground in “Companions,” the eighth of nine tracks on the album. While the song contains the same driving backbone of the album’s other songs and even digs into the soft vocals of a more standard pop tune, it does so with galloping classical guitar, vocal harmonies and eventually Magik*Magik’s string arrangement.

Another addition the Dodos make to their musical roster in “No Color” is guest vocalist Neko Case of the New Pornographers, who sings backup to Meric Long on five tracks. Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Don’t Try and Hide It,” the refrain of which Case sweetly shouts in the background.

The vocals of the album as a whole are also really well done; not only does Meric Long remit his lyrics well, he varies his vocal delivery enough to keep it interesting as well. At some points, the band even uses voice as one of the percussive elements, adding to a crescendoing cymbal crash with a heightened, yelled lyric.

What really astounds in this album is how intricately and neatly the sounds have been developed – though seldom reaching past their rawest states, the different musical elements Meric Long and Logan Kroeber employ almost weave a phonic texture around the listener.

In this way, it’s completely okay that the electric guitar used in the album never really quite reaches the ferocious roar of a screaming solo – these textures supplant such intensity and transform the much rawer, perhaps even animalistic, drives inherent of the band into something more sophisticated and refined. The end product balances a line between the polished and innate, still keeping the instinctual driving intensity but contextualizing it with orchestral elements.

Ending with a track aptly entitled “Don’t Stop,” the album ends on a decidedly sudden note. Though steady in its delivery, the clamoring acoustic finger-picking and the blanket of distorted guitar with Long’s low, chanting vocals lack a true sense of finality. Ascending into vocal harmonies, fluttering guitar and rapid drumming, the beat drives listeners to a point where everything all too suddenly (despite the yearning of the song’s title) ceases to be.

Such an ending doesn’t necessarily take away from the music before it, or even end it in an unsatisfactory way, though; it seems by the title of the track that the band knew their finale would leave their listeners wanting more. Less a cruel act and more a sign for the future, “Don’t Stop” also appears to be what the band plans on doing.

With “No Color,” the Dodos have stepped up their creativity and have produced a wildly imaginative and energetic album – and it seems they are hardly done expanding their palette. It begs the question: If this is the Dodos desaturated, what feat will they next achieve once they open themselves up to their full spectrum of color?

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars