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Music Review: The Dodos – Time to Die

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With last year’s Visiter, The Dodos provided a vivacious and detailed indie folk record. Since then, the duo of vocalist and guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber sprouted into a trio with the addition of Keaton Snyder on vibraphone. The result, showcased on 2009’s Time to Die, is a thicker, more polished sound.

Time to Die actually leaked on to the wondrous internet in early July. The Dodos embraced the leak, offering a full high-quality stream of the record on their website and bumping up the official, legal MP3 release date.

With production by Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Built to Spill), it’s probably no surprise that this record is more sophisticated. The rough edges, part of what made Visiter such a lively and ballsy revelation, appear to have been buffed down to nigh on nothing. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of musical goodness to be heard, but the manic energy and wild strumming is nowhere to be found.

Bands certainly should evolve and grow as their art leads them, but Time to Die feels like strained fine-tuning.

“Longform” is a broad piece that unloads Long’s strumming and matches it with keen fills from Kroeber. While the song swings like an empty hammock in the breeze and the production adds spongy texture, the frantic and jumbled romp-and-stomp is missing and the results are regrettably unremarkable.

Lead single “Fables” is Fleet Foxes-esque, offering effective folk that makes full use of Snyder’s vibraphone. While sounding like the Foxes certainly isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, Long and Kroeber come across as somewhat hushed and submissive. Like most of the album, the tune plays it safe.

Some might like The Dodos’ more restrained, genteel sound. Others, those who are used to the pulsating disorder of Visiter and Beware of the Maniacs, will probably long for the frenetic hoedown qualities of those records. Time to Die definitely sounds sleek and temperate, but there’s an underlying lack of passion that forces each song into the same box of mediocrity.

“Acorn Factory,” for instance, flows with gentle guitar, but nothing about the song allows it to expand. It simply exists, dissipates, and is abruptly ancient history.

Time to Die is, alas, disappointing. The Dodos have gone the safe route of overproduced, shimmering enchantment and have apparently abandoned the reckless roots that infused their previous releases and live performances with such contagious delight.

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