Dr. Dog: Be the Void

Veteran psych-pop outfit takes some welcome detours on their sixth LP.

Dr. Dog

Be the Void

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2012-02-07
UK Release Date: 2012-02-07

For a band that never really asks too much of anyone, Philadelphia sextet Dr. Dog sure sees its share of negative press. The line on these guys is that they’re shameless imitators whose quirky, lo-fi brand of psych pop never steps out of the shadows of the band’s extremely obvious influences. There’s also the bit about how they’ve been making the same album for the past nine or so years. Perhaps conscious of these recurring criticisms, the band hooked up with veteran indie producer Rob Schnapf for 2010s Shame, Shame – an album that found the band reigning in their oddball tendencies to deliver a polished set of concise, highly infectious pop tunes.

While Shame, Shame brought the band its most generous reviews to date, the buttoned-down recording process was apparently not a good fit for these restless experimenters. Be the Void, their second album for major indie Anti- and their sixth overall, finds the band once again recording in their home studio without any adult supervision. The result isn’t so much a step backwards as it is a step in every direction imaginable all at once. This is still unmistakably a Dr. Dog album. All of the fuzzed-out guitars, goosebump-raising harmonies, nonsensical lyrics, and the songs that lament the passage of time are present and accounted for. On this go around the band has made key additions in multi-instrumentalist Dmitri Manos and drummer Eric Slick (who plays with a soulful swing that brings to mind the late Al Jackson Jr. of Booker T & the MG’s), allowing them to tackle everything from Afropop to glam rock.

Singers/songwriters Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, forever conjoined by their gloriously interweaving harmonies, often sound like they’re making two very different albums and that’s particularly true here. If you’re inclined to make yet another Beatles comparison, you can go ahead and call Be the Void their White Album. Leaman, with his nimble bass playing and soft-croon-to-hoarse-shout vocals, is always the more sonically adventurous and unpredictable of the two. He gets to open the album with the charmingly twangy “Lonesome”, which finds him answering a full band chant of “What does it take to be lonesome?” with an emphatic “Nothing at all!”. He also pitches in the hilariously caustic “Vampire” and the sweeping “Get Away”, which begins as a hushed soul ballad before blossoming into a string-laden world beat epic, complete with an Arcade Fire-sized chorus.

As expected, McMicken’s songs are more immediate and hook-heavy. Always the go-to guy for a leadoff single, McMicken offers up the carnival-esque “That Old Black Hole” and the sashaying “Do the Trick”, two giant nuggets of sugary pop that are among the best the band has ever served up. “How Long Must I Wait?”, which features the sort of crackling, redlined drum sound that should make the Flaming Lips proud, shows that these guys know their Stax (or Hall & Oates, anyway) just as well as they know their Beatles. And if someone played a sitar on “Dear Prudence” it would sound something like album closer “Turn the Century”, which finds McMicken wading into Fleet Foxes territory with gorgeous results.

Those who accuse the band of being stuck in their ways should skip straight to the ferocious “Warrior Man,” surprisingly spot-on send up of Kinks-ian folk rock (think T-Rex covering Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”). Leaman even adopts a faux English accent to deliver pseudo-psychedelic lines like “I am the ancient warrior man and I hail from the ancient warrior land / I invented the computer, man / Hubcaps and soda cans”. Of course, when a band tells you that they went in the studio, let the tape roll, and had a much fun as possible, you’re always going to end up with some dead weight. “These Days” and “Over Here, Over There” are exercises in ho hummery and Dr. Dog’s not-so-secret jam band tendencies are on display in all of the worst ways on the seemingly endless “Big Girl”.

For many years it always seemed like Dr. Dog were just a few inches shy of some sort of big breakthrough. With Be the Void, it has become clear that, while they’ll probably never make their masterpiece, the strange way they operate is essential to the business of being Dr. Dog. Having a band that puts out a solid album every two years is not something one should ever take for granted.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.