Dr. Dog album a pleasant, indie folk surprise

Music Reviewer
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Be the Void - Dr. Dog. Cody's Score: 85/100
I’ll be completely honest – I’ve never particularly cared for Dr. Dog. There was always something about these college rock folkies I found irksome – maybe it was that their folksiness seemed so contrived or that the vocal duo between bassist Toby Leaman and electric guitarist Scott McMicken never really worked within the sphere of their psychedelic, folksy baroque pop. Or perhaps, most importantly, it was that the band hid behind this veil of psychedelic folk to begin with. To me, they always projected the illusion of originality – sonic tinkering galore, the oft-used low-fi ‘sheen,’ heavenly, pitch-perfect baroque pop harmonies. In many ways, this veil was caustic to the band’s past material in that the core of their work on Fate and to a lesser extent, Shame, Shame sounded rather vapid.

Yet, color me surprised! Not only have these Western Pennsylvania indie rockers crafted something actually substantive, they have also managed to deliver what is unexpectedly one of the finest albums so far this year.

Be the Void, Dr. Dog’s seventh album, channels the same psychedelic tinkering found in the band’s previous work. But behind the tinkering is a collection of twelve songs that are rustic, effortless, lucid, and above all, absolutely infectious.

The Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque, swamp rock on the opener “Lonesome,” evokes images of lackadaisical summer days. Even in the chorus line, “What does it take to be lonesome, nothing at all” evokes However, it also sounds and liberating, paradoxically carrying with it the same spirit of Son House and Stephen Malkmus. It is an intriguing, peculiar combination, but the piece sounds so unrefined that the fusion sounds like it was leisurely stumbled upon.

There is a certain halcyon aura underlying these pieces that sometimes forces one to smile. Emblematic of this, “Do the Trick” ends with a succulent, catchy motif bolstered by a gliding, supple vocal harmony. The direction of the track, and really of the entire album, seems to be instinctive. It’s not that what they are doing is in, any way, revolutionary – we’ve heard the indie-folk harmony spiel before (see Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, etc.). It’s just that few bands can sound this organic or this effortless, in the way that Dr. Dog manages on Be the Void.

Dr. Dog takes their psychedelic rock influences, and in lieu of hiding behind them, channels them into memorable and remarkable compositions. It marks an evolution in the band’s songwriting, first seen on their previous work Shame, Shame. For the first time, the band has now managed to sound inspired without seemingly like a cheap facsimile of these influences. This album is the sound of a band finally locking into their stride then unabashedly and swiftly running.

In light of some of this year’s releases, it’s refreshing to see a band that knows it’s limits. “These Days” immediately hits with a Strokes-influenced garage rock riff and a dynamically rising verse before breaking into a frantic mini-epic of an ending. Everything sounds tight and calculated, as if the band has locked into a thudding, rhythmic groove. The track is joyous and triumphant, but it also never makes the mistake of sounding pretentious. It’s a track that could have easily been derided by clouted, misguided ambition. Not to say that ambition or grandiosity are bad, but rather that they are appropriate within certain contexts. It takes a good songsmith to realize this – and that is exactly what Dr. Dog has done on this album.

I’ll never assert that what Dr. Dog has done is revolutionary. But, then again, not everything piece of music needs to be groundbreaking. What they have done however is release a collection of pieces that resonate with rawness rarely seen in modern indie pop.