Monday, June 7, 2010

Dr. Dog: No Shame in Throwback

All these indie bands with non-human names must be listening to their parents' records. Over the last few years, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Deer Tick, and Animal Collective have revived the sounds and styles of the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Beatles (who were named after Buddy Holly's Crickets). Quick, somebody call Dr. Doolittle

Or Dr. Dog. On their sixth album, Shame Shame, the boys from Illadelphia channel the Sixties and Seventies with vocal harmonies, major chord progressions, and an abundance of oohs, ahs, and la-las in the backing vocals. But while the music exudes cheeriness, the lyrics are melancholy memories of disappointment, frustration, and loneliness, with titles like "Unbearable Why," "I Only Wear Blue" and "Stranger."

Dr. Dog, Stranger

Many songs on Shame, Shame feature a lonely guy who wallows over a girl. And whatever the subject, there's a pervasive wistfulness for the past and uncertainty about the future.  In "Jackie's Got a Black Eye," one verse sums up the album's main theme in four lines: "Yesterday's love defines you/Today that love is gone/Tomorrow keeps you guessing/The roller coaster keeps rolling on."

Dr. Dog, Jackie Wants a Black Eye

As on past Dr. Dog records,  Scott McMicken (guitar) and Toby Leaman (bass) split lead vocal duties. True to form, the strategy recalls the Beatles, CSN, and The Band, as well as Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective. But while GB and AC embrace experimentation, Dr. Dog sticks to the basics. The instrumentation is standard (guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard), with a splash of accordion and slide guitar. There are no key changes, time signature shifts, or electronic loops. And songs like "Station" will only fuel comparisons to The Band that have, well, dogged Dr. Dog since their inception.

Dr. Dog, Station

At times, Dr. Dog crutches on cliches and borrowed sentiments, such as "eye of the storm," the "blink of an eye," and even a girl who's an "open book." One chorus borrows from the Beatles' "I should have known better." Another lifts "mirror mirror on the wall" from Snow White.

But if the album lacks innovation, there's no shortage of heart. Dr. Dog brings a earnestness that counters the irony and postures of indie music and fashion. While many bands discard their roots to become citizens of Brooklyn, Dr. Dog revels in its West Philly hometown, with tales of innocence and experience, bike rides and bands in basements  No surprise from a group whose 2006 ode to the weekend includes the line "Let's grab a case of lager/And some old beat-up shoes/Head down to the river/strap on a canoe." And there are worse influences to wear on your sleeve than Lennon and McCartney. The Beatles knew how to fuse world-weariness and exuberance into pop songs that withstand the test of time. And in the words of the music-obsessed hero of Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers "anyone who is against the against life."

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