Well this is a strange feeling. For once, I agree with the conventional wisdom about an album. Just about everything I’ve read about The Dodos’ latest album, No Color, treats it as somewhat of a return to form after their slight misstep with 2009’s Time to Die. In many respects, this analysis is dead on. No Color is a stronger, more visceral album that recalls many of the strengths of their breakthrough album, Visiter. Yet, after spending a week with this album, I have enjoyed every listen but can’t say I’ve formed a connection. In fact, once it’s over, every song is forgotten.
I don’t know why this happens. No Color is a good album, and I’ve never once felt bored while listening to it. “Black Night” opens with thudding drums and a strong, fingerpicked melody. It’s actually better than both of the songs that opened Visiter and Time to Die. Less than two minutes in, Meric Long punctuates the calm with guitar bursts and yells. The melody then shifts and becomes more propulsive. Like on Visiter, the song bleeds right into the track that follows, “Going Under.” Compared to its predecessor, “Going Under” feels a bit tame, but after drawing the listener in with gorgeous melodies for the first half, the song kicks into high gear.
“Good” doesn’t waste any time with a slow build. It opens with more fingerpicked guitar and makes it clear from the beginning that this song means business. Long’s characteristic shout shows itself less than a minute in. The song lags a bit for the bridge/chorus, but for the most part, it’s consistently enjoyable. I also feel like I’m hearing Long improving his electric skills. “Sleep” follows. It’s one of The Dodos’ more straightforward songs, clocking in at just over three minutes. “Don’t Try And Hide It” is even more direct. I could see this song bringing them an even larger audience, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s one of those songs that only assholes hate. The opening minutes “When Will You Go” is about as close as this album gets to a respite, but even here, Logan Kroeber’s percussive style keeps this song above a certain threshold of calmness. I’m not sure that this is a complaint, and anyway, Long cranks up the electric guitar after about two minutes, so this song was never going to be purely soothing.
By the time I get to “Hunting Season”, I’m starting to understand why this album doesn’t captivate me the way Visiter did. The Dodos haven’t added much to their formula in the past three years. Sure, it’s a winning formula--their playing style is unique, and while Long’s vocals are a bit too smooth for my taste, he shouts enough to keep things interesting. But he’s doing that less these days, and increasingly his songs sound like they’re just going over ground already covered. And while none of the lyrics are bad, they don’t really contribute much more than any other instrument. “Companions” is a strangely seductive song that succeeds by never trying too hard. It’s a great song to listen to while working, or driving down the highway, and “Don’t Stop” ends the album with a high level of energy. But that’s all they do. It’s just a good soundtrack for whatever else you may be doing. As a work to be enjoyed by itself, it falls a bit flat, like the rest of the album.
No Color is my least favorite kind of album to review: a solid set of impeccably crafted songs that leave me cold. I can’t find any real fault with this album. They aren’t mechanically repeating themselves. The songwriting and performances are tight. But it all falls flat to my ears. I enjoy it, but I will never need to hear this album again. Maybe somewhere, this album is becoming the soundtrack to the most meaningful moments of someone’s life. For me, it’s just nine really good songs that I don’t have much interest in listening to.
1. Black Night
2. Going Under
5. Don't Try and Hide It
6. When Will You Go
7. Hunting Season
9. Don't Stop