By the arrival of their eighth full-length, Grizzly Peak, the guitar-and-drums duo of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber had long tweaked the Dodos' sound from album to album, with an overriding vector pointing from their fingerpicked, majority-acoustic beginnings to the electric-acoustic, synth-injected rock of 2018's Certainty Waves. For Grizzly Peak, they've revisited their initial inspirations as a band, namely to attempt to record something that sounds and feels like being inside of a guitar. Without completely jettisoning keyboards and electronic elements, they re-embrace acoustic favoritism on a warm, rousing set whose exacting drum performances can sound acoustically unbridled at times. In fact, they recorded different sections of songs like "With a Guitar" and "Pale Horizon" in rooms of different sizes, so the sound seems to move (and does) as the tracks unfold. Also unlike prior releases, Grizzly Peak was produced and recorded by Long, and the only other players on the album besides the Dodos are cellist and violinist Lewis and Graham Patzner. First track "Annie" begins with soft electronics, a muffled drum, brief strings, and the band's trademark syncopation before Long delivers the tender, pandemic-era opening line, "Slowing down was not what I had planned/But here we are." The song's dynamics leap upward for a chorus that has Long shouting and Kroeber engaging full limbs even as physical space somehow seems to exceed noise. This impression persists even on busier tracks like "Eyes Wide Open." On the noise-generating side, the group's seamless interweaving of melodic components and spunky drum rhythms is perhaps at its subtlest on "With a Guitar," a song about using music for both escape and purpose when everything else is failing. That track's more assertive chorus adds a unison-strings hook while multi-tracked vocals separate into ethereal backing lines. An album of contrasts, the otherwise rhythmically flittery "Eyes Open" begins with an electric, unison chromatic hard-rock riff before settling back into warmer textures. That song is sequenced back-to-back with the folky "Sustainer," which relies instead on patterned acoustic guitar damping and piano. Later, the sweetly melodic "Quiet Voices" offers a master class on effortless rhythms, shifting meters, and the fine art of dynamics. That could be said of the album as a whole, which ends with "The Surface," a catchy closing number that seems to bring Grizzly Peak's timbres together for a bow, although lyrics advise, "From the top of the chain/To the bottom again/When you thought you were done/You scratched the surface."
Grizzly Peak Review
by Marcy Donelson