A few months ago, a bemused friend of mine laughed at the use of a Dodos song in a beer commercial, because The San Francisco folk-pop group just seems like the complete antithesis of everything you usually see in a brew ad. But after hearing Of Montreal soundtrack a commercial for Outback Steakhouse, it’s hard to be surprised by any indie rock band turning corporate shill, but in a way, the Dodos appearance in a Miller Chill commercial (It’s got lime!) actually makes perfect sense. Ever since characters on The OC first name checked Death Cab for Cutie, advertisers have ironically tried to make products seem edgy by pairing them with non-threatening, introspective bedroom rock. And while the Dodos have their quirks, they’re certainly not going to scare anyone.
What the Dodos have going for them is a pleasant, largely acoustic sound somewhere in the neighborhood of The Shins. But to really reach their potential, they’ve got to sort themselves out. Time to Die, the band’s third full-length album, is the sound of a band deciding where it wants to go. The group’s stated mission is to combine its musician’s eclectic backgrounds in folk, metal and African drumming. Musicians Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, who split instrument duties, wanted to take a folk sensibility but put rhythm more center stage. This does happen to a degree, but it takes about five songs to get there. Time to Die is one of those rare birds that actually gets better as it goes along.
On the first few songs – the echoey builder “Small Deaths,” the scattershot “Longform” and sing-songy “Fables” – Long and Kroeber seem to be deciding just how to create this blend. The addition of Keaton Snyder on vibraphone adds a layer, but none of it really gels. Time to Die‘s oddly muted production doesn’t help the situation. Especially early on, the songs sound muffled, like it was recorded in a box of Kleenex. Songs feel like they’re building toward something, but never get there.
The chorus of “Fables” (“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“) is the first inkling that all these pieces can and will find harmony. It’s catchy, and the strumming guitar, syncopated drums and tinkling vibraphone are all working together, rather than alternating. The Dodos shake off some dust with the albums most rockin’ tune (by folk trio standards) “This is a Business,” which has Long howling (again, by folk trio standards) that “This is a business / This is the only way of life.”
From there, the album really takes off. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the next track, “Two Medicines,” starts with Long and Kroeber harmonizing. Next comes “Troll Nacht,” a rambling tune that in more than six minutes, almost seamlessly toggles between arpeggio folk and jangly pop. Closers “Acorn Factory” and “Time to Die” keep pace.
Having gotten their start in 2005, the Dodos have come of age as a band at a time when audiences accept blended genres and the occasional appearance in a beer commercial. The key is to own it. The Dodos may never get out from under comparisons to groups like the Shins, but Time to Die is at its best when the band members throw in the kitchen sink of their experience and don’t overthink it. If the American brewing industry has taught us anything, it’s that it’s all good.