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Published: 2013/10/31
by Sam Robertson

Dr. Dog


B-Room, the new album from Philadelphia indie darlings Dr. Dog, finds the band unquestionably grown into their own wild collage of sound, with The Beatles and Beach Boys influences that constantly haunted their earlier efforts slightly less dominant now. Naturally, the essence of Dr. Dog that originally provoked those comparisons – soaring harmonies and simple, catchy melodies – are still as strong as ever. But their core sound is fleshed out by a thirst for studio experimentation, and B-Room swirls a variety of influences, including modern pop and indie rock, into a cohesive sound. The songwriting partnership of bassist Toby Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken is at the center of Dr. Dog’s music, and while Leaman’s songs generally have a classic rock flavor, McMicken’s are wildly psychedelic and inventive, creating a perfect balance.

After a few seconds of tuning up, album opener “The Truth” kicks into gear with a memorable, instantly catchy piano riff and transfixing harmonies, as they deliver the classic-sounding pop rock formula they have perfected over the years. Leaman’s “Broken Heart” follows and is one of the album’s strongest tracks, from the bitterly ironic chorus of “Freedom from love, freedom from the heartache” to the hyper indie folk mish-mash of noise from the band. A slow grooving hip hop beat introduces “Minding The Usher” before the song opens up with spiraling harmonies and fades out with an absolutely scorching guitar solo, making for the most compelling musical journey of the album.

“Phenomenon” finds Dr. Dog seemingly gone straight up alt-country, with acoustic guitar, bass and drums joined by banjo and fiddle. But always with a trick or two up their sleeve, a distorted electric guitar pops out of nowhere to trade a few licks. The country vibe continues on Leaman’s intimate, bare “Too Weak To Ramble,” before McMicken delivers another dose of musical flair with “Long Way Down,” complete with an ambitious appearance from the Antibalas’ horn section. Between the horns, Leaman’s distorted, rumbling bassline and thick synthesizers, there are an abundance of crazed musical ideas on “Long Way Down,” but they coalesce remarkably smoothly into one of B-Room’s most interesting tracks. “Twilight” is equally ambitious with heavy Theremin use that almost mimics an orchestral arrangement, but the song itself doesn’t fare quite as well.

On “Rock & Roll,” Dr. Dog pays homage to that magical feeling of dropping the record player needle as a 16 year old and diving headfirst into that magical world of music discovery. Despite the familiar, charming sentiment and tribute to the fresh, exciting world of rock music, the song is essentially a throwaway with recycled riffs and lyrics and a noticeable lack of adventure compared to the rest of the album. But while “Rock & Roll” sounds like a track they could write in their sleep, B-Room is a largely courageous effort that finds them expanding their soundscapes. While Dr. Dog clearly remain nostalgic for the golden age of rock and roll and those familiar sixties influences will always leave a strong imprint on their music, B-Room is the sound of a band that has let modern influences creep into their sound more and more, and the end result is a fearlessly experimental effort that retains their trademark catchiness.

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