With a title like Time To Die, you might think the Dodos’ third disc is their ‘mature album,’ a deadly serious undertaking punctuated with string sections and synths. Nice try kid, but you’ve got it all wrong. While indie rock’s go-to guy, Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Fleet Foxes, The Shins), hopped behind the boards this time, the Dodos’ wildly-percussive style is still centered around two key elements: the punchy percussion of Logan Kroeber and the Fahey-infused finger-picking of frontman Meric Long. Oh sure, you’ll hear a horn blast here and there, but it’s never enough to distract you from the group’s riffs and rolls.
“I’m glad that we were able to keep things simple on this record,” says Long, “Because when your band gets a little popular, there’s this tendency to say things like, ‘Let’s add an orchestra on this one!” That works for some people, but it would detract from this band.”
Indeed, and as right as Long may be, Time To Die introduces one major addition to the Dodos’ creative core: Keaton Snyder, a 21-year-old music school dropout who plays a mean vibraphone. As Long puts it, “He’s a better musician than Logan and I combined. I don’t even know what’s going on with his music theory ideas half the time.” On a similar note, Snyder—a classically-trained musician—is constantly learning what ‘being in a band’ entails. In fact, he didn’t even know how to react when a chord was yanked during his Dodos debut. “After the show,” says Long, “he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve never had to plug anything in before.’ It was hilarious.”
All jokes aside, you’d never know Snyder was the Dodos’ third man without looking at the new album’s liner notes. Not because he’s missing in action half the time; he’s just locked in step with Long’s steady-handed strumming and Kroeber’s canon-like beats. That, and Snyder’s actual sound/physical presence isn’t all that different than the visceral elements explored on the Dodos’ previous two albums, 2006’s Beware of the Maniacs and the band’s buzz-stirring breakthrough, 2008’s Visiter.
“The vibraphone is pretty crazy and loud,” says Long, “and if you put it through some effects, you can make it sound like a guitar or synthesizer. It still has that element of something you’re hitting, though, which is central to how Logan and I play our instruments.”
That’s the thing about Time To Die: It expands the Dodos’ Ginsu-sharp sound without smothering it. It’s not the death of everything you adored about the duo; it’s a rebirth, revealing some serious career standouts (the widescreen payoff of “Small Deaths,” the string-and-drum spasms of “Longform,” the delicate/distorted dynamics of Snyder’s “Troll Nacht” parts) along the way. Which isn’t a surprise when you hear how many months they spent writing the damn thing earlier this year.
“After Visiter, we had a lot of options for which direction to go,” says Long, “But I knew we wanted to make a rock record. Being an acoustic band—primarily, at least—sort of works against this idea, but Phil’s production showcased that side of our band.”