One of the first long-form music reviews I ever wrote was for my college paper, and it was on Dr. Dog's 2007 release, We All Belong. In the time since, the Philadelphian DIY-pop outfit has released three records and passed through Nashville several times. And if you comb back through the Scene archives — as I'm certain you intend to do — you'll find that I previewed and/or reviewed each of those performances and records, interviewing the band on multiple occasions and frequently touting them as one of our country's finest modern touring acts.
Clearly, I like Dr. Dog. Their warm, sunshine-poppy, retro take on indie rock circumvents the cynicism and darkness that the genre accrued in the '90s, all without sacrificing meaning and merit. Sure, they got less lo-fi after their breakthrough, 2005's Easy Beat — and therefore lost some cred among the dipshittiest of the I-heard-it-first audiophile crowd — but the quality of their songs remained high.
So why do I find myself frustrated that I still like Dr. Dog? Why, when I listen to their brand-new Be the Void, do I grit my teeth and knit my brow just a little bit? The easy answer would be that, as the band has accumulated more and more fans, many champions of the Dog have turned out to be baseball cap-sporting, cargo-panted frat bros. But that's a cop-out. The Beatles obviously remain the greatest band of all time, and all the douchebags with Abbey Road posters in their apartments can't change that, no matter how hard they bong-rip their way through "Eleanor Rigby."
The fact is, Dr. Dog is relentlessly good, and that can be maddening.
You see, when it comes to contemporary bands, we music critics can't much afford to be fanboys and fangirls. With new albums and tracks and remixes and collaborations dropping relentlessly every day on music blogs across the globe, it's all we can do to keep up, toss our two cents into the bucket with everyone else's and move on to the next thing. Dr. Dog's discography features a half-dozen LPs and a slew of singles, and there really isn't a bad — or even a mediocre — song in the whole lot. And their catalog isn't samey. Sure, as you'd expect, Be the Void features a bunch of AM pop-inspired, Nilsson-meets-The Band-y, sentimental, mid-tempo indie gems, with the sort of subtle studio tricks that a close-knit crew of gear nerds would come up with. Yeah, "Get Away" sounds like it could have been lifted from We All Belong, and co-frontmen Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman once again split lead-vocal duties right down the middle, track by track. But there's melodic diversity, uplifting refrains and wonderfully textured guitar and organ tones. Be the Void is playful and weird when it needs to be, familiar and warm when it should be.
The truth? Dr. Dog just hasn't given us a chance to hate them. It'd be awfully easy to write off such a prolific, hard-touring band, and thus spare myself the responsibility of writing them up every time they pass through Nashville. How many "Dog" puns can I come up with, after all? But damn it, they deserve it. They're still that good.
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