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Dog Bite

Velvet Changes

(Carpark; US: 5 Feb 2013; UK: 4 Feb 2013)

Dreamy, Gauzy, But Ultimately a Little Dull

Dog Bite is the brainchild of one Phil Jones, whose approach to music is much indebted to 1980s and ‘90s dream-pop. Dog Bite’s debut album Velvet Changes is a soft-edged platter of ethereal pop nuggets which aims to mine the same vein as such bands as Lush and Cocteau Twins, but utilizing Jones’s male vocals. The results are mixed. Some songs gravitate toward a certain spacey comfort level, but too many others are as vacuous as cotton candy: even after repeated listening, it’s impossible to call them to mind.


Album opener “Forever, Until” gives a pretty good idea of where the listener can expect to spend the next 40-odd minutes. With its layers of strummed guitars, repeating guitar lick, and layers of breathy, reverbed vocals, the song gives the impression of being played by a band that isn’t fully awake yet. It’s either trance-inducing, profoundly relaxing, or boring as hell, depending on the mood of the listener.


So goes the rest of the album. “Boring as hell” is an unfair epithet to throw at it—there’s too much going on in these songs—but there is an undeniable sameness of approach and effect that won’t be to everyone’s taste. “Supersoaker” offers a very similar sonic palette, with the additional of jittery, electronic percussion underneath the lo-fi vocals and soft-edged guitars, while “No Sharing” relies on beds of synths and keyboards for the song’s underlying structure. Through it all, Jones croons or moans (you pick). His voice appears to have a range of about four notes; while I’m no fan of American Idol-style histrionics, the fact is that his vocal limitations hugely constrict the range of these songs.


“Prettiest Pills” marks something of a change in the record: there’s a peppy drumbeat, a quietly fuzzed-out guitar riff, and something resembling a sense of urgency to the song. Probably the best tune here, “Prettiest Pills” offers evidence that Dog Bite is more than just a Cocteau Twins wannabe. Subsequent tunes hint at a similar verve without ever quite getting there: “Native America” builds itself around a vivacious beat and a hypnotic, repetitive chorus, while album closer “My Mary” marries a sense of quiet desperation with narcotic sluggishness as well as anything else on the record.


That’s it for highlights. Other songs tend to roll by without making much of an impression, or more precisely, while making exactly the same impression as other songs before and after them. “You’re Not That Great”, “Paper Lungs”, and “The Woods and the Fire”, among others, fail to differentiate themselves from the great mass of nearly-tuneless material on the album. Another oddity here is the monotone dynamics of these songs; they don’t rise and fall sonically, instead establishing a constant droney level of sound that rarely varies. The good news is that listeners who like one or two songs here are likely to enjoy the whole record.


For that reason, fans of lo-fi, downtempo music might find Velvet Changes worth a listen, particularly on rainy afternoons when the best option is to sit inside with a mug of hot tea. It’s that kind of record. Even then, though, too much of what’s here is lethargic rather than hypnotic. There’s a fine line between dreamy and sleepy, and too often, Dog Bite falls on the wrong side of that divide.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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Dog Bite - "Prettiest Pills"
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