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Published: 2012/03/21
by Sam Robertson

Dr. Dog
Be The Void

Anti/Epitaph

In Dr. Dog’s early days, the band picked up steam despite shying away from major labels and producers, preferring to stick to their own vintage, lo-fi style. On their last album Shame, Shame, that style seemed like it had evolved, as for the first time, they used an outside producer and embraced a bigger sound. Shame, Shame finds the band at their catchiest but also hardest rocking, as years of heavy touring had turned Dr. Dog into a true rock band with rumbling bass and drums and clashing guitars.

Dr. Dog’s new album Be The Void finds them retaining the raw rock and roll edge of Shame, Shame with their most musically aggressive and ambitious album yet, while also returning to the quirky, experimental style of their early days. The country blues of album opener “Lonesome” sets the tone for Be The Void, as it is irresistibly catchy and charming despite utterly nonsensical lyrics and barroom cheers. Between the oddities of “Lonesome” and the bongos and spacey keyboard effects that open the album’s second song, “That Old Black Hole,” the band wastes no time in declaring that their decision to go back to self-producing must have been motivated by their love of doing whatever the hell they want in the studio.

After perfecting streamlined rock and roll with Shame, Shame, Dr. Dog have produced a wild collage of sounds with Be The Void. On the new album, they flesh out these songs with improved musicianship and studio bells and whistles. Make no mistake, not all of the bells and whistles work. The computer noises at the beginning of sleazy rocker “Warrior Man” add little to the song, and the bongo drum led breakdown in the dance pop of “Heavy Light” is even more surprising (though, like everything else on Be The Void, it will grow on you quickly). But the unabashedly loose, fun vibe of the album is contagious and musically, Dr. Dog thrives most in this anything goes atmosphere.

Dr. Dog is built on the unique songwriting partnership of bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken, who trade off songs throughout the album. Because their writing styles are so different, the album is full of sudden twists and turns. While Leaman’s songs are fairly straightforward, McMicken’s songs sound like a collage of soundscapes. From the electro-pop of “Heavy Light” to the memorable psychedelic dance edge of “How Long Must I Wait,” McMicken’s songs force Dr. Dog into new musical territory.

While McMicken’s songs on Be The Void tend to lean towards experimental psychedelic pop, Leaman’s songs are comfortable rockers. “Warrior Man” nods a little too heavily at The Kinks, but “Big Girl” could be the best rock song Dr. Dog has ever recorded. With Leaman’s infectiously catchy chorus and McMicken’s slashing guitar solos, “Big Girl” finds Dr. Dog fully capturing their live energy in the studio. Leaman’s “Vampire” and “These Days” feature more howling vocals and searing riffs from McMicken and rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, and show that the band is just as influenced by ‘70s glam rock as they are by ‘60s psychedelic pop.

With the right mix of heavy rock and roll and indie charm, Dr. Dog’s Be The Void is a loose, ragged and lighthearted album that keeps growing on you until it just won’t leave your head. After enduring years and years of comparisons to The Beach Boys and The Beatles (and seemingly no one else), Be The Void finds the band embracing a wider palette of influences and moving closer to their own sound in the studio. Be The Void is harder rocking and livelier than anything they’ve recorded before, and though the experimentation makes for an album that is not as immediately catchy as Shame, Shame, it also creates an album that is certainly more adventurous and ultimately at least as enjoyable.

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