I find it more than mildly annoying when people automatically reduce new bands and musicians to who or what they initially sound like.
“They just sound like Joy Division. Whatever, I’m at war with indie rock.”
“I think this band is just obsessed with Talking Heads. Whatever, they just don’t make music like they used to.”
“They’re just too precious, like a watered-down Leonard Cohen. Whatever.”
It’s true that many music-makers are guilty of purely drawing influence from musicians past and pawning it off as their own. However, there are plenty of legitimately good bands these days that not only draw from their predecessors, but also manage to take it to an entirely new level. In the case of the Dodos, I’ve heard more than one person spout off about how the San Francisco duo sounds “just like Devendra Banhart,” and that’s it. When you listen further, however, you find that the Dodos’ music is Devendra-influenced freak-folk turned on its head and enveloped by a whole new set of nimble, tangy acoustic textures.
In trying to describe the Dodos, I feel the overwhelming desire to make many statements about the music’s undercurrent of contradiction. The music is jarring yet melodic, like standard freak folk with a more precarious edge. The high-speed undercurrent is fluid yet chaotic, constant yet often sporadic. Steady, yet on the verge of collapse. This is what makes the music so compelling and beautiful, and why the Dodos should be deemed a contemporary than a derivative of Devendra or Animal Collective.
Many of the songs on Visiter (the band’s Frenchkiss debut and second full-length overall), are simultaneously powerful and emotional, set to DIY-drum rhythms and lively strumming. “Walking” is a subtle and lovely opening track, with a collective feel reminiscent of Akron/Family, while “Red and Purple” launches into the Dodos’ more urgent instrumental tendencies. Songs like “Eyelids” and “It’s That Time Again” are more open and playful with lo-fi qualities; on the opposite end, “Fools,” “Winter,” and “God?” are deliberately constructed and wound airtight. “Jodi” is straight from the ’60s folk movement with convulsive drumming thrown in for good measure, falling off the wagon towards the end into a whirlwind mass of experimental neo-folk heaven.
The rest of the album is hazy and sweet, hypnotic and introspective, everything and then something else. This is one of those times when written description doesn’t do an album justice, but at least gives you some context in which to enjoy it. Just please don’t pass it off as copycat because you’re afraid to try something new. Music is meant to evolve, a welcome aspect of life for which the Dodos’ music is a perfect example.