We All Belong
Park The Van Records
An up-and-coming band that has been circulating in the Philadelphia scene for the past seven years or so. With three albums under their collective belts- The Psychedelic Swamp (out of print), Toothbrush from 2002 and Easy Beat released in March of 2005, Dr. Dog have established for themselves a solid indie reputation. That buzz was heightened immeasurably through a well-received impromptu set at last year’s NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) convention, in August, creating a word of mouth furor among many top indie retailers.
They released a six-song EP last fall, which served as a precursor to this full-length album. Two songs, “Ain’t It Strange” and “Die Die Die,” found on that EP, made their way here- along with nine other numbers. Also last fall, the band toured the US, occasionally sharing the bill with the Raconteurs. They have also toured, opening for My Morning Jacket, the Strokes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Closer to home, the band played at Doug Fir in March. Last September, Dr. Dog knocked out an overflow crowd at a Northwest Millennium in-store stint, before a gig at Dante‘s.
They appeared on the Conan O’Brien Show on March 12th and the David Letterman Show on May 15th.
Steeped in the vocal traditions of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Dr. Dog take a bit looser approach to recording and production values than those bands. But the essence remains. Lead singer “Taxi” (lead guitarist Scott McMicken) sounds sort of like John Lennon, at times anyway. These recordings (with sound quality and tightness comparable to Let It Be period warehouse jams) could pass as demo sessions from Lennon’s Double Fantasy album- near the end of his life. Either that or Double White-ish era Beatles, with elements of Pet Sounds/Smile period Brian Wilsonisms abounding- and occasional references to the Kinks, filtering in from time to time, as well as, perhaps, even the Band.
An example would be “Ain’t It Strange” with its Lennonesque piano (provided by Zach Miller, known as “Text”) musings and occasional three-part vocal harmonies. A lazy rhythm and a cozy tone buffet a rough arrangement, sloppy yet charming. “Old News” reflects a bit more rehearsal- a little McCartney, a little Jellyfish- piano heavy, hints of saxophone, la-la, ooh-ooh Beatlesque backing vocals. “My Old Ways” features further three-part vocal harmonies and a piano driven arrangement, vaguely similar to Badfinger in their “Magic Christian” days. The bluesy “Keep A Friend” calls to mind “Oh Darlin’” from Abbey Road, a couple of Eels songs, 10 cc and the legendary Emmitt Rhodes.
A fat, crunchy sound (courtesy of Thanks: guitarist Frank McElroy) supports “The Girl,” reminding of the great unknown ‘80s band Crack The Sky, with(relatively) precise guitar riffage embroidered throughout. Drummer “Triumph,” Justin Stens kicks into the soulful ballad “Alaska,” with Miller providing supple organ and piano fills. A certain Band-like, raucous splendor underpins the song. Well done.
Bongos and claves Latinize “Weekend,” a sort of Sublime-textured ditty, before it kind of Beach Boys out in the middle section. A soul R&B feel invests “Worst Trip” with chunky horn charts and funky rhythm guitar providing the backdrop. “The Way The Lazy Do,” sort of picks up where “Ain’t It Strange” leaves off. They’ve done the song better under some other name. “Die, Die, Die” is filler culled from that EP from last Fall, “Takers and Leavers.”
The title track returns to that familiar Beatles’ like framework- maybe more so than previously (especially in the chorus, which has a certain “All Together Now” singalong quality), replete with intricate Harrison-like guitar solos, angelic three-part harmonies, an oo-pah McCartneyish bassline and thick upside down Ringo drum fills. Derivative, but well-played. Ambitious.
And that would probably be an apt description of DR. Dog. They are able to play slick, craftily written songs, without sounding for a second like they sweated over a single note. Effortless, on a certain level. Unaffected. Sincere, yet blase. The band is an enigma, to be sure. But an enjoyable one at that.