To make Certainty Waves, their seventh album as The Dodos, guitarist Meric Long and percussionist Logan Kroeber had to forget everything they knew about what it meant to be The Dodos.
Like the duo's breakout sophomore album Visiter (which celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2018), Certainty Waves finds The Dodos embracing the unlimited possibilities of a time when there were no preconceptions of what the band should sound like. Questions like whether the band needed to be more than just “acoustic guitar and drums,” and just what exactly the ratio should be of acoustic vs. electric guitar suddenly took a backseat to the realization that so much emphasis was mistakenly being put on form rather than spirit.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this epiphany occurred while the band was re-learning Visiter for a show in which they were to perform the record in its entirety.
Recalls Long: “At the time that show happened, I was a little bit lost in terms of which direction the record should go. We had a handful of recordings, nuggets, and song potentials, but they weren't songs yet, and months had passed without any real progress. I was kind of debating whether to drop the kitchen sink, simplify things, or just leave them be."
But a funny thing happened when he sat down to listen to Visiter for the first time in eight years.
“It completely surprised me how much electric guitar is on that record,” reveals Long. “The narrative had always been we were just acoustic guitar and drums.”
This ostensibly simple observation was pivotal in unlocking a new approach to the material Long and Kroeber would later put to tape in the studio.
“Rather than thinking about the end result or considering the reaction of the listener, I tried to give in to gut reactions, first impulses, however silly or untrue to form they may be,” says Long. “If it was exciting in any way, we pursued it without hesitancy or question.”
What began to emerge from the band’s rehearsals was a quasi post-punk sound that Long immediately gravitated toward. It felt new and different, yet somehow still fundamentally “Dodos.”
And so, Certainty Waves was born.
Speaking of the aforementioned spirit, album opener “Forum” has it in spades: a fanfare-esque synth intro, thumping drums, trumpet bursts and fist-pumping “Hey!”s -- not to mention a guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place snaking its way through a Strokes album.
Later, “SW3” employs different tactics to achieve its own frantic vitality, intertwining acoustic guitar and clicking drumsticks in a beautifully syncopated rhythm.
They’re the kind of songs that might not have existed had The Dodos immediately started work on a new record after finishing their previous one (2015’s Individ), as they were usually inclined to do. Instead, Long -- the band’s primary songwriter -- stepped away from music for a time after the birth of his first child, before returning in May with the debut album from his synth-based solo project FAN.
"Making the FAN record [Barton’s Den] was a bit of a crash course in recording, but it really opened up a lot of new possibilities for me in how I thought about making records since there were no guidelines,” says Long. “It's without question that Certainty Waves would be a completely different record, or perhaps would not have existed, had I not done Barton's Den.”
Long eagerly applied this newfound sense of freedom to his approach to The Dodos, and subverting one's own processes and identities quickly developed into a central theme during the creation of Certainty Waves. It’s also a sentiment reflected in the album’s title -- the idea that what once seemed so certain will likely prove not to be in the future. That it was only a wave passing by.
“Certainty Waves is our midlife crisis record,” acknowledges Long. “Who we thought we were, how mistaken we were, how an interference in the trajectory can flip your understanding of what came before.”