ARTIST: Dr. Dog
ALBUM: Be the Void
Even acknowledging that the older you get, the more difficult it can be to really experience anything as truly new and original, I find it a bit harder than perhaps it should be to listen to Dr. Dog without being distracted by their many influences. Sounds reminiscent of everything from 60’s psychedelic pop to indie favorites from the 1990’s are apparent in their style. As that is apparently not anything close to an original thought about the band, I will give them a pass on this issue. Focusing instead on where they stand related to their particular interpretive compilation of the various styles from which they source their inspiration, the good news is that the boys from Philly are not standing still. Having traversed a range of territory from the scrappy, lo-fi roots of their earlier work to the bigger, full-color sound of Shame, Shame, the group’s sixth album, Be the Void represents a kind of cycling back to their roots. These numbers feature the more raw and spontaneous energy of earlier days combined with the additional wisdom and skill gained from a decade of experience together.
Be the Void successfully captures the live-band vibe in the tradition of a college basement band with the hand-clapping sounds, screaming vocals, and a made for singing along chorus created by the two-man harmony of vocalists Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman. There is also skillful mastery of the art of keeping it simple while still churning out a catchy tune and giving the listener something to grab on to. This is aptly demonstrated on numbers including the twangy opening song with the repetitive chorus “What Does it Take to be Lonesome?” (Simple answer: “Nothing at All”) and
“These Days” with its jumbled background sound tempered by a steady beat and more straightforward lyrics.
The electronic dance beat that begins “How Long Must I Wait” is a nice diversion from the earlier numbers, and the slowed down pace of Leaman’s solo voice on the more melodious “Get Away” serves as a similar oasis. The funky beat of “Do the Trick,” a no-nonsense plea for a lasting love leads to the considerably more dramatic “Vampire,” which might be the strongest cut of the album for the haunting melody that goes to unexpected places with tone and mood, building by the end to the controlled chaos you have to appreciate to be a Dr. Dog fan. The album closes with more country-style twang. And if it’s not a sitar featured in this final tune it is the best impression of one I’ve ever heard by a guitar! Either way I love the combination of the eclectic sound with the contemplative mood in “Turning the Century,” a song about questing for bigger meaning. Here’s hoping Dr. Dog never stops questing, meandering down, looping back over and again if they choose, whatever path it is that allows them to never be caught standing still.
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Dr. Dog – “That Old Black Hole”
Live for Philly.com’s InTheMix