For an album that is as beautiful and melodic as Carrier is, the process behind the fifth release from the San Francisco-based indie-rock duo The Dodos didn’t begin as an easy-going, languid experience. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
“It was a scary, interesting place to start from, sort of like starting from zero,” says Logan Kroeber, the band’s percussionist. “For a variety of reasons, there’d been a bit of a break with band activity, so we were testing the waters of what was possible. Those memories of the fear of starting something new are the strongest for me because it was a challenge.”
But Kroeber and guitarist/singer/songwriter Meric Long were up for it, as many of the album’s intricately crafted tracks attest. The opening track, “Transformer,” hints at what’s to come, both in terms of the patient, echoing guitar strains and Long’s otherworldly vocals, which populate the first half of the song, as well as in the sudden switch to a more driving, toe-tapping modern-rock sensibility in the second half. “Stranger” begins with an addictive hi-hat refrain and lush guitar chords, but only grows in complexity as the song progresses. The band’s first single, “Confidence,” is anchored at the start by delicate guitar tones and a slower pace, before exploding into a rip-roaring rocker at the halfway point, complete with alternately beautiful notes and gritty distortion, and chugging drums from Kroeber.
Perhaps the best example of accepting challenges is the album’s closer, “The Ocean.” What starts off as a simple electric ballad—with Long singing like an angel at the other end of a mile-long hallway—gradually morphs into something else entirely. Kroeber comes in with a thrumming percussive beat, and the duo gets an assist—as they do on several songs on the album—from the Magik Magik Orchestra. This string section adds a lovely sonic element to the track, but in this instance, putting the song together was not a simple matter.
“On ‘The Ocean,’ that whole outro, [Magik Magik Orchestra director] Minna Choi ended up hearing the downbeat of that track in a different place than we did,” Kroeber says. “She wrote a whole string section for that song that sounded, to us, like it was a fifth of a note off, and it ended up being an interesting process of messing with their recording of the string section and making it sound on-beat to us.”
Complicating matters was the fact that Kroeber was not as prepared to play this song as he was the others.
“I remember before we went into the studio to put the drum tracks down, telling Meric, ‘I don’t really know this song that well. Is that OK with you?’ ” Kroeber says with a laugh. “We’d only done it a few times, but he had faith in the creative process, and it turned out great.”
That track, and indeed the whole of Carrier, is an expression of how the band has evolved creatively during their nearly 10 years together. Alternative folk-pop was the name of the game for the band on their 2006 debut album, Beware of the Maniacs, but they have progressed from that point to being a duo that is not afraid to crank the amp up to 11, thread some strings into their tracks, and even play with odd time signatures. In fact, the band is so intent on exploring new horizons that they are already working on their next record, which they hope to release this fall or in early 2015.
“It was a struggle getting the momentum going for Carrier, and I’m very pleased with how that momentum presented itself at the end, but there’s more of a fun feeling to this record that came more easily to us,” Kroeber says. “It feels super energetic, so we’re excited for people to hear it.”