Scratchy vulnerable pop and infectious boy-girl choruses... it's like the Lemonheads without the drugs!
Night Group came out in April, and while we could apologize for our tardiness in covering it, we could just as easily take credit for pushing the record back to its natural temporal space. This is a summertime record, no doubt about it, its sunny boy-girl choruses seasoned with dreamy malcontented-ness, its peppy-bouncy basslines overlaid with melancholy sentiments. If a song like jangle-poppy "Lydia" woke you up on the clock radio, you might haul yourself out of bed immediately...but you probably wouldn't do anything more strenuous than go to the beach for the rest of the day. Hey, aren't the dog days in the middle of August anyway?
This is Dog Day's first full-length album, following a single of "Lydia" in 2006 which got extensive play on Canadian college radio. (The band's from Halifax.) Made up of two couples, main songwriter Seth Smith and his girlfriend (and bass player) Nancy Urich and married keyboard and drums combo KC Spindle and Crystal Thili, the band maintains an unusual balance of yin and yang, the indie boy sincerity of Seth Smith's lead vocals buoyed and made pop by girl-sung harmonies. But let's not be sexist. Most of the band's muscle comes from the two girls, linked in exuberant, tom-pounding, bass thumping rhythms. The sensitivity and drama comes from the boys -- Smith's yearning, raspy vocals and Spindle's new wave keyboard acrobatics.
The lyrical subject matter, love and boredom and career stasis, could come from any of a hundred indie rock bands, yet there's a certain amount of quirkiness in the words that saves them from cliché. In "Oh Dead Life", an ode to slacker inertia, Smith is not too bored and disconsolate to be clever; his words, "Life is too short to ration out in portions," start in truisms, but bends toward the surreal, "I spent my time as soon as I get it." And in "Career Suicide", one of the album's hook-happiest cuts, there's something very funny about sweet girl voices mouthing the words, "I can't believe... that you're taking to Satan."
The best cuts, though, could almost do without the words, encompassing the full range of sweet/sad/bored/excited emotions of early 20-hood with just the interplay of instrument and voice. The title cut, for instance, bounds along on a rubbery bass line, drums straight up and pep-infused. However, Smith's voice is a worn and weary tear line through the cut's silvery surfaces; he sounds real and earnest and kind of exhausted, but the contrast between him and the euphoric "ooh-ooh" choruses is what makes the song so exciting. And on "Vow", one of the darker, more ominous cuts on this very sunny record, you can hear a whiff of the Cure in the keyboards, a hint of gothic drama in the spooky bass. In other places, "End of the World", and "Career Suicide", you might be reminded, a little, of the Pixies, by the interplay of jaggedy guitars and indelible hooks.
But mostly Dog Day will remind you of bubbly-pop boy-girl bands like Imperial Teen and the Lemonheads... full of sharp turns and wicked beats, but smoothed over with sweet slatherings of melodic pop. Good stuff for summer, anyway.