Bereavement is something entirely philosophical and, despite the fact that we can discuss the impact as a collective unit, in the end, it’s something so private that we can never truly understand its effects on anyone other than ourselves. However, thanks to music, we are habitually granted access into a musician’s deepest feelings through a record or a succession of harmonious refrains.
Although only associated with The Dodos for a short period of time, the death of gifted guitarist Christopher Reimer contributes greatly to the despondent tone of the band’s latest album. Instead of opting to wallow habitually in a pool of self doubt and sorrow, the San Francisco two piece have created Carrier, a sincere expression of transience steeped in an enigmatic energy.
A man who could never be accused of being an introvert, singer Meric Long opens with a riddle, a mysterious, enigmatic question; “What is a song?” And then, as if that wasn’t enough to make your mind feel like a balloon floating aimlessly through the sky, follows up with; “What is love?” ‘Transformer’ is the track that provides us with these unsolved puzzles, a tempestuous offering clearly inflamed by feelings of loss and confusion. Progressively embryonic, the track evolves from sullen grievance into a magnanimous beast reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails in their finest hour. A pertinently fitting opener, ‘Transformer’ constantly overwhelms by intermittently rediscovering itself.
The album’s emotive first single, “Confidence,” travels along tenderly on muted harmonies and requisite beats. These fundamentals become apparent before a striking conclusion finds the duo abandoning refinement, opting instead for a blazing and stimulating all-out
instrumental attack. Closing your eyes, one can just imagine Reimer churning out the most electrifying jam of his short lived career. Elevating, vociferous, distressing and beautiful, ‘Confidence’ is the poignant tribute that the 26 year old guitarist truly deserves. San Francisco’s poetic justice reigns supreme, the duo reinforce the belief that if you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then we can always seek emancipation from our mere existence. The placid lull created on the track rapidly evolves into an intense conclusion that displays some remarkably dexterous fretwork.
‘Stranger’ is a heart-rending but victorious ballad perplexingly sustained by strung-up guitar and Kroeber’s ridiculously reactive drumming. Long sings in a transcendent manner, defiant and strangely self-assured, he professes; “I plan to see this through until it’s done.” ‘Relief’ is a gorgeous, rustic interlude that embraces yet another unsighted electric coda. There are sporadic glimpses of the more conventional directions this kind of soul-searching record could have adopted, particularly in the languorous ‘Family’ and the melancholic ‘Death’, but the discordant guitar bursts declaring the arrival of ‘Destroyer’ rejuvenate the record right when things appear to be headed into a pitch-black void. Nevertheless, as the undulating flow on ‘The Ocean’ moves steadily from reassuring to rather ominous territory, Long wraps up the album with yet another riddle, an inscrutable, distinctly open-ended enquiry: “Why won’t you be where, I want you to be?”
Often the greatest challenge to any songwriter is stating the quandary in a way that will accept clarification. It’s commendable, especially in these contemptuous times, and Carrier is a beguiling homage to the restorative authority that music possesses. Infrequently, thankfully, the melancholy is almost repressively flagrant, but the Dodos refuse to flounder – and if anything, Carrier is an album that underlines one simple fact; what we anticipate seldom occurs, and what we least expect tends to happen.
The Dodos have always been an understated band, even amidst all the giddy drums and sweltering acoustics, but this record seldom fails to relate. A band clearly motivated by a glow that illumines, and ignorant to the glare that obscures, The Dodos deliver one of 2013’s best albums. What could have been a morose, globular inspection of death is in fact an expression of subsistence, acquaintances, affection, and how to cope with the greatest of adversities in a dignified manner.