The San Francisco rockers kept pressure out of the studio when recording "Individ," but you can't tell from the album.
“I was so stressed,” recalls The Dodos' vocalist and guitarist Meric Long. On a lark, he DJ’d at a museum event in the band’s native San Francisco, “and did the worst thing you can do as a DJ, which is have the music cut out.” But watching the guests meander, Long saw attendees were more focused on the planetarium’s spinning space bodies than his own rotating records, “which made it okay because then I was like, ‘Okay, they’re obviously not paying attention.’”
The same, fortunately, cannot be said for The Dodos, who will grace the Gasa Gasa stage this Friday to support their new LP Individ. Long and drummer Logan Kroeber have built a devoted following over five albums by steering their instruments from a time-biding softness into explosions of bodily force. 2013’s Carrier is streaked with somberness and anxiety, but their trademark is more present than ever on Individ, which contains full-blown panic attacks.
The opener “Precipitation” starts with a guitar wail that evokes a being in pain. Despite Long’s reassurances (“Let go of it / It’s not relevant”) two-thirds of the way through, the toms throb and the guitar scrambles for the exit with a flashing riff. “Tide” offers the starkest display of self-doubt when it asks, “Are we on the brink of disaster / when the tide comes what will come after?” The lead single “Competition” is one of the few breathers. Over a self-assured beat floats an untroubled vocal delivery.
Ironically, given its omnipresent uncertainty, the album’s creative process was fairly relaxed. Most bands finish laying down tracks and go on tour, or at least turn the mics off. After the end of the recording of Carrier, the Dodos stayed at it.
“One of the reasons that we recorded Individ right after Carrier was so that we could record in a time capsule of no pressure,” Long says. “I think that kind of approach is helpful. Maybe not necessarily doing records back to back, but recording as much as possible and not limiting or setting any guidelines."
Long agrees that there's a lot of uncertainty in the lyrics, but the band’s current state is a stability hinted at by the album title. Long coined the word “individ” to describe an unflappable resilience that greets life’s twists without struggle or resistance. “I feel like we’re playing better than we’ve ever played,” he says. And despite being on tour, Long and Kroeber feel more connected to their San Francisco base than they have in years.
“I think people forgot that we were a San Francisco band, and now we’re getting our connection back," he says, "It feels like we have a foundation.”
“Rescinded the urge / revealing an ocean,” Individ concludes on “Pattern/Shadow.” Whether manning turntables near science exhibits or creating a record, for The Dodos, confidence comes from relinquishing control.