Review Summary: A solid but slightly underwhelming release from one of indie's most dependable bands.
Over the course of their past few albums, Dr. Dog’s sound has become more and more polished. I wouldn’t necessarily pinpoint that as a bad thing, but compared to the raw and tattered production of gems like ‘Alaska’, a lot of their songs have started to feel rather vapid. Be The Void
sees the band returning to its roots with a jaunty “live feeling” album that lusts to create the organic sensation of a stripped down jam session.
Be The Void
is Dr. Dog succeeding in that quest, loading itself to the brim with mid-tempo grooves composed of soulful guitar play, pitter-pat drumming, and long winding choruses. From the infectious sway and borderline country groove of folk stomper ‘Lonesome’ to the straight up bluesy closer, ‘Turning the Century’, the band flexes its songwriting muscles and demonstrates its ability to write insanely memorable and relatable songs – a knack that has always allowed them to survive come hell or high water. Lead single ‘That Old Black Hole’ is another prime illustration of their songwriting ingenuity, featuring a sure-to-catch-fire chorus of “I don't wanna fight, but I'm constantly ready/I don't rock the boat, but it's always unsteady." On songs like these, Dr. Dog chooses energy and dynamics over perfectionism, giving the music an appeal that is less immediate but far longer lasting. With every shift in momentum we can feel
the immediacy of the music, lending it a sense of emotional and literal proximity that hasn’t been matched in quite a long time. It all ends up feeling pleasantly warm, as if Be The Void
was an album made in the moment, for the moment.
There’s only one problem: it’s still nothing we haven’t heard before. The retro vibe is again pungent, reeking of the same 1960’s influences that Dr. Dog has always worn on its sleeve: the Beatles, Beach Boys, Neil Young, Tom Waits…any avid fan has heard the comparisons before, and they are no less prevalent on Be The Void
. Expectedly, the album leans just as heavily on sunny pop from over five decades ago as it does on indie contemporaries such as The Flaming Lips and My Morning Jacket. That isn’t to imply that Dr. Dog does nothing unique, but it would be a stretch to say that they do anything other than squeeze by in the originality department. Even those who disagree about the aforementioned influences would be hard pressed to come up with ways that Be The Void
differs from other Dr. Dog releases. Outside of them scaling back production and choosing to return their focus to a distinctly raw sound, the band simply fails to be anything more than “reliable.” Thus, Be The Void
’s consistent delivery ends up being bogged down by its inability to walk a path less traveled.
As a whole, though, Be The Void
is a solid effort from a band that has really begun to establish itself in the indie community. All of the material here is passable, with a few highlights that will surely leave a positive impression on listeners. Newcomers may find this record more alluring than the Dr. Dog faithful, if only because they have no frame of reference. But even in spite of the aforementioned stagnancy in the band’s direction, Be The Void
is an exceptionally crafted, extremely fun album. In the end, that is what we have come to expect from Dr. Dog – and once again, the doctor delivers.