Delaware Valley psychedelic rockers Dr. Dog return to the forefront of hip indie with their latest release B-Room. With less than a year’s time elapsed since Be the Void, the band’s 2012 commercial and critical break-out success, it seems the band is losing little time or momentum fulfilling a unique golden-era vision of what makes a pop song.
From lo-fi origins in the early ‘00s, Dr. Dog has undergone metamorphosis with nearly every studio album. Easy Beat‘s attempts at transcendentalist psychedelica was refined on 2007’s We All Belong, whose blossoming sound incorporated more instruments and vocal harmonies to create their first chart presence. After gaining a national audience, Dr. Dog dropped the analog recording process and feel-good inclusiveness for a darker, more personal yet still energetic foray. Shame, Shame firmly established the group’s relevance in both durability and emotional duality. The Pennsylvanian sextet was more than just another disposable drug-addled buzz group. The band creatively outlasted so many other well-springs of youth culture that quickly dried up. Be the Void only cemented what every edge of the industry insider already knew. Dr. Dog is a force to be reckoned with. Tracks like “These Days”, “Vampire”, and “Over Here, Over There”, captured perfectly the raw energy of their chaotic live performances without disparaging the recording process to any degree. With albums charting progressively higher and a touring schedule placing them in highly desirable stage slots at news-making national festivals, the time is ripe for Dr. Dog to break through to the mainstream, and B-Room is just the album to do it.
Intro track “The Truth” sets the stage for the album as a whole, reintroducing the audience to the group’s 1960’s production-value ambition. It is too early to say Dr. Dog is a timeless band, but what may be more accurate is to describe them as a band out of time. With its group harmonies and stilted guitar rhythm, a piano melody that echoes the vocal delivery and a call and response from backing vocals the track wouldn’t feel unnatural surfacing between the Hollies and Johnny Rivers on a golden oldies channel.
But that doesn’t mean B-Room can be pigeonholed. Second track “Broken Heart” assaults the audience from the dream induced state provided by the intro. It is frenzied, lyrically rich dance fodder that could serve as a radio single or crowd favorite in concert. The interweaving vocal delivery combined with the sonic miasma of ambient decoration propels the number into the realm of pop art.
A track by track listing would stretch this article beyond your patience. Suffice it to say there isn’t a single track that could be described as a write off, but there are several selections that warrant mention. “Distant Light” is the continuation of a running theme spanning from at least Be the Void and perhaps even from earlier works. Possible interpretations could include hallucinatory visions or the surreal experience of life in our modern age. The first half of B-Room closes out strongly with a blues-Americana number, “Too Weak to Ramble”, which strips away production to showcase inherent talent.
The second half of the album is somewhat weaker, entertaining still but not quite as powerful as the first. It isn’t until “Rock & Roll” that the momentum is properly regained. The song could be considered a ballad to youth, first drug experiences, the terrifying exposure to dangerous and dark music such as the namesake implies, and the stirring of romantic awakening. Closeout “Nellie” lets the audience down easy. The infectious chorus sung in lovesick appreciation of the innocent feminine invites comparisons to late era Beatles with its sweetly irreverent perspective on wanting.
B-Room explores new territory while retaining the odd, often brilliant reorganization of rock music which has garnered the group so much praise. It is altogether a dynamic addition to a discography replete with strong albums. From first to last Dr. Dog uses a breadth of influences to create an abundance of uniquely entertaining, widely differing songs. Like individual chapters in a suspense novel, the tracks of B-Room delight while inspiring anticipation for what follows. The lyrics and vocal delivery are just as clever as the sonic landscape, and it seems as if this album might be the high-water mark for a band many will mistakenly write off as just another indie act.