When we last heard from the Dodos, the blogosphere had fingered the band as the Bay Area's answer to Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes. Those who listened beyond the jaunty “Fools” heard in 2008's Visiter a left-field masterpiece that was miraculously stranger and more extroverted than any prevailing indie trend. Since then, guitarist Meric Long and percussionist Logan Kroeber have reaped the rewards that come with below-the-radar acclaim (beer-commercial licensing among them) while retreating to the studio to find out just what this two-headed beast can do. The result is Time to Die, a more focused but ultimately less distinctive set of songs. The overbright production by Phil Ek (the Shins, Built to Spill) renders the duo as a sort of Zach Braff–approved XTC — joyously idyllic but cloyingly so. Time to Die offers pastoral rock with no nuances, only diminished returns.
But the record's biggest flaw is tactical. With its satisfying three-act structure, lead track “Small Deaths” comes on like a bold statement of purpose that the rest of the album lets down, repetition by repetition. On their own, Indian summer anthems like “Longform” and “The Strums” are perfect playlist fodder. But an album built almost entirely upon the tension of dreamy riffs and pounding tempos is a step back for these once idiosyncratic sons of psych.