Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Album Review- Dr. Dog - Critical Equation

Dr. Dog
Critical Equation
***and 1/2 out of *****

The last three releases from the Philly retro indie rockers were fine when listened to, but were not memorable or on par with previous albums and in retrospect show a pattern developing. A live album for any band, especially one that is fun live but not transformative, acts as a stopgap and this was the case with Live at The Flamingo Hotel. Then The Psychedelic Swamp was a re-imagining of the first thing the players ever recorded, while Abandoned Mansion was an album they recorded, shelved, then released on their bandcamp with zero fanfare. The group were in a holding pattern...or worse.

Now comes Critical Equation and a press push that has the members saying it feels like a new band and that they broke out of their mold, saying "We needed to blow it up" and "Fuck Dr. Dog". This is all a ruse.

Perhaps behind the scenes things have changed, relationships no doubt have evolved and this is the first time the band has worked with an outside producer since Shame, Shame (for this record it was Gus Seyffert). In the end though Critical Equation is just another solid release from the group that fans will enjoy and critics will deride as more of the same Beatles/Beach Boys inspired trippy pop rock.

In fact on the opener "Listening In" Scott McMicken begins by singing about talking albums, a theme he has addressed in the past as the easy groove rolls out around flashes of keyboards and feedback drenched guitar snippets. The shaggy retro indie style is something this band has embraced from the beginning and a track like "Under The Wheels" feels straight out of a Neil Young late 70's playbook, with some prettier vocals as Dr. Dog sing about faith from wife to husband and a higher power. It sounds dated, but that is clearly the plan.

Things become more modern with "Go Out Fighting". It is a repetitive dance laden beat whose bass line bubbles as the track evolves from a fun pump up jam to a darker psych-rock excursion in the vein of The Black Angels. That line straddling cheerful pop and darkness lurking just under the surface floats through the dynamic "Heart Killer" as well, but it is their purest pop number that rings strongest as "True Love" finds Toby Leaman taking lead vocals and running with them as organs whirl, acoustic strings strum, and choruses soar via beautiful positive vibes. 

Leaman's breathy vocals guide "Buzzing In the Light" dreamily while the electro pulsing "Virginia Please" has layers of sound as well as the groups gorgeous harmonies. On the not so positive side of things, the title track becomes overly dramatic with it's swells and "Night" drags but the groups ten tracks and backward looking sound remains a pleasant listen even songs aren't top notch.   

No musical reinvention, just a collection of solid songs doing what this band always did best. If RtBE were ranking Dr. Dog's catalog (hmm there is a future article for sure) we would drop this somewhere in the middle, behind their best work (Fate, Shame, Shame, B-Side) but ahead of others (Be The Void, The Psychedelic Swamp, Abandoned Mansion).
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:

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