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Album Review: 'Certainty Waves' by The Dodos

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, November 2, 2018  /  08:17 am
Album Review: 'Certainty Waves' by The Dodos

Album review: ‘Certainty Waves’ by The Dodos (-/-)

American indie rock band The Dodos returns with the energetic Certainty Waves, its seventh and latest album.

The last few albums from musical duo Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have seen them venture into experiments with less “rock” instrumentations and sounds, but Certainty Waves sees them breaking things down again and refocusing on guitars and drums, using other bells and whistles as added nuance when needed.

Their complex and busy interplay is characteristic of The Dodos, but the added aggression is reminiscent of some of the band’s early songs, lending the album a sonic buzz that sustains itself throughout its nine tracks.

As always, the cerebral arrangements find a soothing partner in Long’s emotional vocals, which perpetually feel like a call of longing. When his vocals sing against themselves through looped harmonies, such as at the end of “Sort Of”, they push the songs into soaring crescendos that rely on minimalist ebb-and-flow rather than outright musical dramatics.

The minimalist instrumentations of the album’s tracks mean that the duo never reaches the balance between complexities and pop that Visiter, their breakthrough record, does.

But the almost-circular nature of the arrangements in these songs serve up an acquired prowess all their own, resulting in a trance-like meditation with beats that never seem to pull back, at least not in an obvious manner. On tracks like “Dial Tone” and “SW3”, Kroeber conjures spaced-out rhythms that seem to loop onto and into each other rather than fulfilling any conventional time-keeping duties.

Fans of The Dodos will certainly not be surprised, but Certainty Waves seems to feature a significant amount of these rhythmic approaches to give it an applaudable individuality from the rest of the band’s repertoire.

Kroeber’s rhythmic mash-up of elements from African to progressive pop to baroque to western folk rock is a strength in and of itself, but layered against Long’s processed vocals and guitar, it is an undeniable formula.

The recentralization of the electric guitar means that Long performs a lot of “rock music” tricks, as one might expect. But of course, very little of it feels traditionally rock. Instead, they perpetually move between providing basic to contrasting rhythms, and to creating ambience through experimental playing.

“Excess” finds the guitar hopping between pulling single-note shuffles that complement the already complex drumming and presenting sounds that resemble analog synthesizers, ambient-driven toward a breakdown and chaotically laser-buzz-like heading in the end.

Similarly, the guitar starts up almost funky, filtered and fuzzy in “Ono Fashion” before going bananas into math rock territory with repeated pentatonic lines and static-like synthesizer washes. “Dial Tone” sees the six-string providing a continuous pulse before morphing organically onto acoustic-fingerpicking then psych-rock octave leads.

The perpetual dynamics that guitar and drums go through individually make the tracks on Certainty Waves a busy experience, and not something for casual listening.

Yet, they continue to engage and seem glued together mostly through Long’s vocals — which, even if they more often provide a topping of nuance than hummable hooks, never feel too alien.

Indeed, even without reading or catching the lyrics, it’s not difficult to feel a connection with Long’s delivery. Even in its dramatic prettiness, it feels primal.

In the album’s press release, Long wrote that the songwriting process for the album relied on instinct and not overthinking things.

“Rather than thinking about the end result or considering the reaction of the listener, I tried to give in to gut reactions, first impulses, however silly or untrue to form they may be,” he stated. “If it was exciting in any way, we pursued it without hesitancy or question.”

That sense of fun and freed energy is clear in Certainty Waves. While The Dodos’ albums never felt contrived, this one harkens back to the band’s very first self-release in its unconstrained force. It’s still complex, but it feels unabashedly fun and even unplanned. It feels like the work of musicians with a new, freeing perspective on crafting their art.

As Long himself wrote, the album’s title refers to the passing, wave-like feeling of certainty that comes with age.

Certainty Waves is our midlife-crisis record,” Long said. “Who we thought we were, how mistaken we were, how an interference in the trajectory can flip your understanding of what came before.”