The two guys who make up the Dodos — Meric Long and Logan Kroeber — spend most of their time fighting through an endless contest to see who can be more percussive. Behind the drum kit, Kroeber obviously has an advantage, but as fiery as the intricate snap of his drumming is, don’t count Long’s finger-bleeding guitar play out just yet. Not only can he tangle together intricate, tuneful riffs, he does it with a string-shredding power.
And sure, maybe this was what was missing from 2009’s toned-down Time to Die. But the album was hardly the misstep most claimed. It certainly found a focus that their breakout sophomore record, Visiter, didn’t have, but it sacrificed its predecessor’s wild-eyed spontaneity. No Color, however, towers over its immediate predecessor by synthsizing the left-field pop whims and vitality of Visiter with the cohesive album feel of Time to Die.
The complex tangle of guitars is back and charging forward at every turn, and Kroeber’s drums have never been more striking, playing the rumble of toms off the dry pop of rim taps to varied but brilliant effects. The great joy of No Color comes in seeing the legs the Dodos’ sound has even when the band doesn’t jump all over the musical map. Each song has the same basic elements, but “Black Night” sprints forward while later tracks like “Companions” sway dreamily in the same kind of shuffle. “Going Under,” one of the longest songs here, lists from sharp-edged verses to the smooth ache of the chorus and back again. Meanwhile, “Sleep,” the best song in this set, uses the band’s natural speed to perfectly embody the frenzy of a sleepless (and restless) mind. Though each song on the record shares a distinct folk-dust-turned-punk-sweat energy, no two channel it the same way, so you can feel a thread running through the whole record while never feeling like they’re covering the same sonic ground twice.
Maybe this is what was supposed to happen with Time to Die, the poweful buckshot of Visiter getting shaped into a sniper’s bullet. But if that album was a pleasant stumble, this one marches with an impressive and hot-blooded purpose. And, as much as you may have heard about Neko Case appearing here, this is totally Long and Kroeber’s show. In fact, Case’s pristing voice only appears in the background here, and rather than call attention to itself, it serves to show us just how great Long’s rangy voice is, almost as if it was hidden in plain view until now.
Closer “Don’t Stop,” built on guitar work that sounds like Leonard Cohen on fast forward, encapsulates perfectly all the band’s strengths. Electric guitars bleat out over the intricate acoustic, and Kroeber sounds like he’s got four hands running roughshod over the drums. Long’s singing builds constantly to epic musical breakdowns. It’s a brilliant, powerful end. Rather than relent and break the album’s blistering inertia, they end at its very peak, so when Long repeats, over and over, “Don’t stop,” you realize that is exactly what you’re thinking as the band ramps up for one more crashing flourish.
Top to bottom, No Color is a beautiful record. Its combination of speed and melody, coupled with Long and Kroeber’s precision, is almost too tight to be believed. Visiter may still be the defining album for these guys, but in a few years, after we’ve had time to digest what they’ve done, we might find ourselves claiming No Color as the better album. Time will tell on that one; in the meantime just turn this on, loud, and do your best to keep up.