[album review] Dr. Dog / Be The Void

Tympanogram Grade: B-

Some bands opt to redefine their music on each release. There’s the acoustic and sparse album followed by the electric and grandiose album. Or the “prog album” followed by the “folk album.” Not Dr. Dog. The Philly rockers have been content to evolve their sound slowly and subtly, each consecutive album adding a bit of extra scenery to the musical view. Similarly, their fan base has grown slowly but surely. Like the tortoise, they’re winning the race at their own pace.

Their latest album, Be The Void, bucks that trend just a bit, but in a sporadic and undefined way. They were a little less subtle in the changes they’ve made and perhaps a bit too adventurous in making them. The album’s opening track, “Lonesome,” brings a bluesy folk layer to their oeuvre. It’s a decent sized leap for them and it works wonderfully. As the next track, “That Old Black Hole,” starts up with its funky beat, spacy backdrop, and bongo highlights, it is quickly apparent that the refreshing new sound found in “Lonesome” is not a harbinger for things to come. The album continues to fluctuate between different influences throughout the rest of the album, whether it be the late 70’s hair-rockers “Big Girl” and “Warrior Man,” the Eastern-infused “Get Away,” or the almost mirrored return to folk on album closer “Turning the Century.”

I am certainly not knocking variety as a whole, but in this case it seems that Dr. Dog may have added a bit too much too fast. The album ends up lacking cohesiveness and becomes rather a collection of songs. Some of the songs are great, and will be welcome additions to Dr. Dog’s excellent live show. It just doesn’t particularly work well in the album setting. The songs heard individually become more enjoyable then when they are played in the context of the whole album. This may not necessarily be a bad thing. I get the feeling that indie giants Wilco and My Morning Jacket have both progressed past their “great album” stage as they have suffered similar cohesiveness issues on their past couple of albums. Yet they are known to be two of the best live acts going in the indie-rock world and the albums still served well in adding new highlights to their concert experiences. Dr. Dog hasn’t gotten quite as much credit or popularity for their live show, but anyone who has seen them knows they’re among the best as well.

So perhaps they too have matured to the point where their best albums are in the rear view mirror and now we’re all humming along at Dr. Dog speed, enjoying the view. Or maybe it’s just a bump in the road. Regardless, I think Dr. Dog’s most ardent fans will find a lot to like here, just not sure how many new ones will be made.

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