Thursday, September 24, 2009

Album of the Week, 9/25/09--The Dodos, "Time to Die"

The Dodos are no dummies, nor are they close to extinction. If their latest release, Time to Die (September 15, 2009), is any indication, they are evolving into a new sound species all their own. Consider me your H. M. S. Beagle as we explore the musical mutation I like to call “Dodo rock.”

I would expect nothing less than percussive perfection from a band formed by a former student of West African Ewe drumming (Meric Long). What, you might ask, is Ewe drumming? Native to the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, it’s a drumming style that involves several drums, a bell, and, yes, a rattle.


One wonders, of course, what enticed white boy Long to connect with his non-existent West African roots and get all crazy with the bells and whistles. Regardless, in 2005 Long was living in San Francisco, doing his drumming thing, when he was introduced to former metal band member Logan Kroeber. The duo didn’t miss a beat (sorry) and formed the group Dodo Bird, releasing Beware of the Maniacs in 2006 and Visiter in 2008. Eventually, they adopted the name The Dodos after their growing fan base continued to refer to them by that moniker. (On a side note, their album Visiter is intentionally misspelled. After the Dodos performed for a special ed class in L.A., a student gave them a drawing with the word written on it, and so the album art was born.)

And now it is Time to Die. Not really, of course. I want to live so I have time to listen to the Dodo’s latest album over and over. Time to Die came out on September 15, 2009, and it is already bludgeoning my eardrums with bliss. That's a good thing, I swear. It's just so darn rhythmic. Every song will hit you in the chest like a cosmic heartbeat, but gently, so gently. It's a mellow mauling—so mellow in fact that some fans of Visiter are complaining that the band "isn't as wild" as it used to be. Let's clear this up right now: A death metal band the Dodos are not (despite the fact that Kroeber was once in one). Their vocals are as soothing as the Shins'.

Give 'em a listen:

"The Strums"

I imagine the Dodos are a band you would want to see live. Logan Kroeber mixes things up with a drum kit, strikes on the rims of the drums, and even uses a tambourine taped to his shoe. Meric Long plays acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars but owns something called a Tafelberg drum guitar. I had to Google this one. Apparently, it’s a table string instrument described as “atmospheric” and “droning,” and the first one was made… for the Dodos. Yet again, they lead us to a mutation in the musical code.

Somehow I still don't think there's enough drumming here. But wait! During live performances, just to cover their beat bases, the Dodos throw in Keaton Snyder on vibraphone and percussion. Whew.

Now that I know the survival of our musical species is ensured, I've got some Time to Die.

Runner-Up: Kitty, Daisy and Lewis

In honor of the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival this weekend, it seems only fitting to recognize a brother/sister band of British youngsters who bring the boogie woogie. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are Kitty Durham (16), Daisy Durham (21), and Lewis Durham (19). The north London trio sings and plays guitar, piano, banjo, lapsteel guitar, harmonica, double bass, ukulele, drums, trombone, xylophone, and accordion the way they heard it on their parents' Louis Jordan and Patsy Cline LPs when they were growing up. (Their parents are well-known British musicians and music lovers.) If you think the music sounds authentic, it’s probably because it was recorded using vintage 1940s and 1950s microphones and tape machines. The band does not use computers or any digital format to record, and so the album crackles with a happy hiss of nostalgia.

I’m a sucker for a retro throwback, and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis’ self-titled album, released August 25, 2009 (not 1959), puts the rumble in my rumble seat.

You can see the siblings in the 2009 film Last Chance Harvey, playing their song “Mean Son of a Gun" (check out the YouTube clip from the film here ). They're also featured in Alex Walker's documentary We Dreamed America, which dips into the British Americana music scene (yes, there's a term for it). Here they are getting their rockabilly swagger on:

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