3:09pm

Tue February 14, 2012
Music Reviews

Dr. Dog: A Standout Among Stereotypes

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 5:16 pm

Sometimes I wonder: Do the members of young indie-rock bands know that they're walking stereotypes? There's the scruffy dude who's obsessed with everything vintage and analog, the Pavement-worshiping, whiny-voiced lead singer, the rhythm section that knows its way around every oddity recorded by The Kinks. That's pretty much how I pegged the Philadelphia sextet Dr. Dog in the early days, right through the band's first five critically slobbered-over albums.

Then I encountered "How Long Must I Wait," from the new album Be the Void. It was perplexing. Until this, I'd regarded Dr. Dog as just another supernerdy and relentlessly glib indie-rock band. "Wait" is an entirely different animal — a simple and disarmingly earnest tune, with churchgoing vocal harmonies that recall The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek."

As "How Long Must I Wait" unfolds, the tune gets thicker and more intense, and that opened the door for me. Pretty soon, I found myself in the midst of a full-on Dr. Dog conversion experience. I began to appreciate how the two songwriters, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, use the indie-rock toolkit in brazenly creative, subversive, counterintuitive ways. And how words that sound, at first, like free-associative gibberish have a tendency to become unexpectedly profound, as can be heard in another track from the new record, "That Old Black Hole."

The previous Dr. Dog records have their pleasantly grabby moments. But sometime in the past few years, Dr. Dog has grown into a hook-writing machine. The band's new record has a bunch of refrains that register as sledgehammers to the brain. Those hooks didn't just grab me — they pretty much demolished whatever perception I once held. From a distance, Dr. Dog's members might look like dime-a-dozen indie rockers, but few of those bands could come up with something this smart.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The rock band Dr. Dog For has been around for almost a decade, and has impressed its fair share of critics. But our critic, Tom Moon, has been a skeptic. That is until the band's latest album.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Sometimes I wonder, do the members of young indie rock bands know that they're walking stereotypes?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: There's the scruffy dude who's obsessed with everything vintage and analog, the pavement-worshipping whiny-voice lead singer, the rhythm section that knows its way around every oddity ever recorded by the Kinks. That's pretty much how I pegged Dr. Dog in the early days and right through the band's five critically slobbered-over albums. Then I encountered this song from the new album "Be the Void."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW LONG MUST I WAIT")

DR. DOG: (Singing) I fight for you. Our love is war, the battle of Baltimore. It was perplexing. I took you back then, I'll take you down the road. You're with me on my own.

MOON: It was perplexing. I'd regarded Dr. Dog as just another super-nerdy, relentlessly glib indie rock band. This is an entirely different animal - a simple and disarmingly earnest tune, with churchgoing vocal harmonies that recalls "Up On Cripple Creek" from The Band. And check out how the tune gets thicker and more intense as it goes along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW LONG MUST I WAIT")

DOG: (Singing) My time, my time, my time is to be. How long must I wait? How long must I wait?

MOON: That opened the door for me. Pretty soon, I found myself in the midst of a full-on Dr. Dog conversion experience. I began to appreciate how the two songwriters, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, use the indie-rock tool kit in brazenly creative, counterintuitive ways. And how lyrics that sound, at first, like free-associative gibberish have a tendency to flip into something unexpectedly profound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD BLACK HOLE")

DOG: (Singing) Well, I don't know how to say it but I know that I can show you. I said I don't know how to say it but I know that I can show you. I tie my boots up tight and I head straight...

MOON: The previous Dr. Dog records have their pleasantly grabby moments. But sometime in the last few years, the band grew into a hook-writing machine. These hooks didn't just grab me, they pretty much demolished whatever stereotype I held. From a distance, Dr. Dog might look like just dime-a-dozen indie rockers. But few of those bands could ever have come up with something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET AWAY")

DOG: (Singing) We'll get away from the hang-ups that destroy the mind. We'll get away from the darkness. We'll get away from the light. Oh, no...

SIEGEL: The new album from Dr. Dog is called "Be the Void." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET AWAY")

DOG: (Singing) ...walk around with my feet off the ground. And when they hit, although we are strangers, run away, run away, run away. I have...

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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