Dr. Dog is not as ridiculous as their name.
Despite an admittedly strange moniker, the guys behind Dr. Dog are, in fact, serious musicians. Perhaps most famous for their cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart it Races,” Dr. Dog’s 2010 LP “Shame, Shame” brought forth brilliant tracks like “Shadow People” and “Mirror, Mirror,” as well as the title track, emulating older pop sentimentalities and melding these with modern indie airiness. Their latest release, “Be the Void,” is an addition to their energy that, when performed live, can give a rest of their extensive discography a run for its money.
I say live because I had the chance to see Dr. Dog perform a few nights ago when they played at the Observatory in Santa Ana. In an interview with WUOG Athens, guitarist and vocalist Scott McMicken described this album as differing from “Shame, Shame” in that the band was really focusing on an “immediacy, looseness, loudness, chaos, fast tempos and dirtier” sound the band is famous for in their live performances.
The change is apparent. The premier track, “Lonesome,” handles a call-and-response style of lyric repetition that, though not in the live setting the song is intended for, still begs the listener to call out on their own. “What does it take to be lonesome?” singer and bassist Toby Leaman calls out, pleading with a shouted response: “Nothing at all!”
Other tracks attempt to emulate the vitality of a live performance with long dynamic jams that profess the band’s infectious live energy. “Warrior Man” bursts out with a floor-shaking chant and a heavy drum beat. “Heavy Light” offers a different kind of dynamism, wilder and freer –– an echo of adventures and moving still night air with fleeting youth.
“Vampire” is imbued with similar vigor, but painfully emotive and bare with clever lyrics that turn into a mantra: “You’re a vampire, baby, / with no reflection at all. / You never think what you do really hurts!”
Dr. Dog’s sound practically invites a comparison to The Beatles, both in song structure and with their band dynamic. Combining sweet harmonized vocals with hard rock beats, the stunted audio quality is almost an attempt to imitate the iconic band. Dr. Dog’s stunning similarity becomes more apparent when considering the band’s vocal arrangements; the band switches lead vocalists, with Leaman singing lead on every other song on the album and McMicken singing lead on the others. Though it’s not quite the same as a Lennon-McCartney partnership (and hopefully nowhere near as divisive in the long term), the band certainly makes no attempt to hide their influence. Still, it’s important to take “Be the Void” and Dr. Dog’s other albums as individual creations rather than brazen attempts to re-attain the greatness of the Fab Four.
While “Be the Void” certainly embraces a live grittiness in this album, the sound quality suffers for it. “Shame, Shame” provided an immaculateness that worked well in the band’s benefit, whereas “Be the Void” ditches that cleanness in a very noticeable way. The result is a lack of polish that may turn listeners off upon first listen, but I implore the casual listener not to put down “Be the Void” after just one listen. Don’t try to confine this album to headphones. Play it on a stereo, in a car, out of speakers. Play it loud, sing along and dance to it, and the album will make much more sense. Stand up and shout with me: “What does it take to be lonely? Nothing at all!”
Rating: 4 out of 5