A decade ago, The Dodos released Visiter, an album that a lot of people described as having an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Now in 2018, the duo of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have gone a full 180, and threw the proverbial kitchen sink into their newest album, Certainty Waves.
Long (the vocalist/guitarist of the group), stated that their latest project is the band’s “midlife crisis record.” This is certainly true to an extent, especially with the constant experimentation going on throughout each facet of the duo’s stratified production. Kroeber’s African drums are noisier than they’ve ever been, and noticeably maximized (to the point where they are clearly the forefront of each track) compared to the very skeletal approach taken on The Dodo’s breakout album from ten years ago.
Tonally distorted electronics also seems be the norm for a good portion of Certainty Waves, namely with the previously released “Forum.” The crinkled baselines are so prevalent that they mask Long’s voice to the point of obscurity. Gone are the days of a minimalistic path to the instrumentation of a Dodos album. The supposed guitarist of the group almost completely throws away his greatest asset, for synthesized contortions. At times, the expansion of the musician’s palette actually works, like on the surprisingly insightful “Center Of.” The crashing soundscape in the background of the production meshes nicely with Long’s intense guitar play, whether it be acoustically or electronically. For once on this project, the duo’s erratic mind-state naturally confines itself into a controlled setting.
The same can be said for “Coughing,” a James Mercer-esque take on frustration and how it affects the human mind. The simplicity and straightforwardness of the lyrics (“it’s not like you gave a shit anyway”) correlate perfectly with the alien-like soundscapes fluttering behind the forefront of the entire song. Dissatisfaction, and yearning to learn more, become one of the more drawn-out topics during this portion of the album.
Unfortunately, simplicity does not reign for The Dodos this time around. A lot of the time here, Long and Kroeber present listeners with an interesting idea, but flounder in developing that idea into anything more. Long becomes a poor man’s Thom Yorke on “Excess” (something this album surprisingly has a lot of considering it’s meager 36-minute run time) and “Ono Fashion,” mumbling his way through sloppy mixing, and annoying electronic riffs.
While the sounds on Certainty Waves are indeed ambitious, the stylistic touches have already been done before within the experimental genre. Sure, the band is going through this “mid-life crisis,” but you wouldn’t know that based off of the unmistakably surface-level songwriting. Abstract writing is tough to master, as shown on this record. The addition of an acid-house bass synthesizer on some of these songs does not help that problem in the slightest either.
The finale, “Dial Tone,” leaves us with a good deal of mystery thematically. Cliffhangers can be a good point for foreshadowing, but nothing about this album has me thinking that there’s going to be some kind of sequel. Much like the production, the lyrical ideas are rarely fleshed out and detailed. There’s too much toying around with stylistic choices, leading me to believe that there must have been some musical tug-of-war going on in the studio. Weirdly enough, Kroeber and Long sound like they weren’t on the same page at certain points during this journey.
Personally, I’m all for expanding one’s artistry. But sometimes, going back to what made you special in the first place can be crucial as well. For The Dodos, the latter probably would have sufficed for their newest effort. A decade ago, Visiter expressed a youthfulness not seen too often within the indie pop landscape. The California friends just couldn’t re-capture that magic again. Yes, they are growing up fast; getting married and having kids, while also learning how to deal with fame well into their mid-30s. Most likely, they’re both probably very focused on doing those things. Ironically, I kind of wish they ditched the whole “throw the kitchen sink” idea, and showed that same type of focus on their newest effort.