Like their large, flightless namesake, San Francisco’s Dodos are throwbacks to an earlier age. They eschew bass, cymbals, electricity, and Dave Sitek production, opting instead for acoustic guitars and lo-fi folk. But although most folkies might use this setup to create roots-folk, the two-person Dodos go the other direction, harnessing their technology deficiencies to create primal music that shares more in common with like-minded peers Yeasayer, Animal Collective and High Places.
On their excellent second album, Visiter, they deftly overcome their lack of numbers. Singer Meric Long shreds out fast-moving guitar licks, alternating between finger picking and heavy downstrokes, and drummer Logan Kroeber bangs around his limited kit like a locomotive moving headlong into derailment.
On "Red and Purple," "Winter," "Paint the Rust," and "Ashley," the Dodos sound like the best possible combination of Beirut’s regal European swagger, DeVotchKa’s wanderlust, Iron & Wine’s lo-fi folk, and Sufjan Steven’s earnestness. With "Fools" and "Joe’s Waltz" the Dodos establish themselves in the primitivist tradition currently being mined by those aforementioned indie-buzz bands. Kroeber’s past work in a metal band does him service on "Fools"; he unleashes a cacophony of rim clicks in warp speed as Long’s ethereal vocals float over his somber guitar line. The band even goes electric, unleashing a white-hot guitar line during the chorus.
The band is in its best prog-mode on album centerpiece "Joe’s Waltz." The first four minutes is devoted to a somber down-tempo ballad that gives way to a three-minute, near-punk thrasher where Long is insisting to the song’s subject that they "need help." The song will undoubtedly garner the band some Elliot Smith comparisons, but the dearly departed Smith never let himself cut as loose as this.
When the album hits its conclusion, the religion-baiting "God?," with its sleigh-sounding percussion, the band sounds completely spent, like the album was recorded in real time. With Visiter, the Dodos have made one of the year’s best albums, one that mixes folk traditions with impressive sonics and texture. It only hints at what they may be capable of.