Not before time, these San Fran folkists give the kiss of life to an ailing genre
Folk music is, of course, the new black right now; some few examples might be good (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Cass McCombs), but the majority of it is lazy, derivative , dull and played mainly by trust-fund kids who’ve never even heard of Woody Guthrie. It’s a scene that’s running out of steam fast, one that desperately needs new life breathing into it or, failing that, one that should be snuffed out altogether.
Enter The Dodos, a San Francisco duo (at the time of recording this album at least – they’ve now added a keyboardist) comprising guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber. ‘Visiter’ is actually their second record, following 2006’s self-released ‘Beware Of The Maniacs’, and it sees them stretching the folk blueprint to snapping point by playing it like it was good, old-fashioned rock’n’roll… with added trippy bits. Opener ‘Walking’ starts in familiar enough fashion, a lone finger-picked guitar, occasional, plaintive percussion and a whimsical male/female dual vocal, before seguing into ‘Red And Purple’ and increasing our heart rate by approximately 140bpm. Now that’s something you’ll never get from a Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly tune.
Kroeber reportedly strapped tambourines to his shoes during the recording of ‘Visiter’, and it pays dividends, his rattling stomps underpinning Long’s ethereal melodies to head-spinning effect. Indeed, the record’s best moments all owe a debt to a similarly idiosyncratic approach to percussion: on standout track ‘Fools’, Kroeber sounds like he’s tap-dancing as Long strums frantically in the background – in the world of The Dodos, you see, the guitar doesn’t always have to be a lead instrument. Vocals, too, are given nothing more than equal prominence in the mix and this, combined with their noticeable fondness for rhythmic guitar-work and tribal drum patterns, suggests that Baltimore nu-folk mentalists Animal Collective are as much of an influence as, say, Bob Dylan. On ‘Paint The Rust’, Led Zeppelin’s acoustic moments (‘Led Zeppelin III’, the second half of ‘Physical Graffiti’) offer an equally important reference point.
Though it’s not entirely without precedent, there’s still more than enough innovation here to mark ‘Visiter’ out as one of the summer’s must-have releases. The epic ‘Jodi’, for instance, manages the unenviable task of tackling prog-folk without sounding horribly wanky. “We can do this on our own” the band defiantly proclaim in its chorus and, if they’re talking about revitalising the increasingly staid
nu-folk genre, then they’re not far wrong.