Be The Void, the seventh album from Pennsylvanian six-piece Dr. Dog, is doing things to the guys at AAA Backstage that leave us feeling pretty damn good. An eclectic, retro mix of late ‘60s/early ‘70s-style psych-rock, indie-folk, pop, and Americana; it’s experimental in comparison to previous Dr. Dog albums, yet tight at the same time, and it has that one magic ingredient that makes an album special: it gets better with each listen.
Despite being fairly heavily trashed by Pitchfork and other forums for being too reliant on an obvious set of influences, the band’s second release since signing to major ANTI- - a sister label of Epitaph - is more than satisfactorily floating our collective boat. While the influences are obvious, they’re the right ones as far as we’re concerned, and while the band does attempt to traverse genres like they’re trying to cover them all in the space of one forty-five minute album, they do it with style, a level of musicianship, and a quality of song-writing that commands respect.
Opener ‘Lonesome’ is a catchy folk/blues stomp that should be fantastic played live, or could be an epically-brilliant drunken campfire tune, given the right situation. Its slinky guitar twang and sing-along chorus are mournful, carefree, and defiant, all at once.
Second track ‘That Old Black Hole’ could be a veiled description of Dr. Dog’s career thus far, with lyrics like “I don’t wanna fight, but I’m constantly ready, I don’t rock the boat, but it’s always unsteady”.
The lo-fi guitar pop and one-note bass rumblings of third song ‘These Days’ sounds not unlike ‘12:51’ from the Strokes’ second album, with a bit of piano thrown in for good measure, adding up to make quite a catchy number that gets under your skin before ending in less than three minutes as the shortest, most pop-y song on the album.
Next up is ‘How Long Must I Wait’ which changes the mood once again, bouncing along to a laidback, distorted drumbeat and what sounds distinctively like steel drums, before ‘Get Away’ slows things down to almost pop-ballad territory before providing a soaring Fleet Foxes-esque vocal harmony moment, again proving Dr. Dog take pointers from bands whose music belongs strictly in the top drawer.
‘Do The Trick’ is a jaunty, angular, ditty which sees singer Scott McMicken begging for redemption, or a doctor - either would ‘do the trick’ it seems, while ‘Big Girl’ channels mid-seventies Rolling Stones, complete with Jagger-esque misogyny, bruised and battered lyrics, and Ron Wood levels of guitar fuzz. Penultimate track ‘Warrior Man’ unashamedly borrows from Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ with heavy doses of guitar scuzz and sludgy bass.
Closer ‘Turning The Century’ sees the guys indulge in some delightfully off-kilter acoustics and possibly a sitar or some severe effects pedal usage; I’m not sure which. Whatever it is, its strangeness is affecting.
Be The Void is much more than the sum of its parts, and even if you’re not a fan of any of the classic bands mentioned as influences here, there’s a very good chance you still could be a fan of Dr. Dog. It’s doing good things to us; maybe it can to you too.
Paul McBride - AAA Backstage