Over the past decade, Dr. Dog has been proving their place in the hearts of many with their wailing, crunchy guitars, groovy drums and bass and profound vocals. Now with the release of their sixth album, the six-man Philly sensation, including former West Chester University students, Toby Leaman, Scott McMicken, and Zach Miller, delivers once again. The album is “Be The Void,” but it does nothing but validate the band as a powerhouse in today’s alternative/indie playground.
Starting with the production, it seems as though the band revisited their “do it yourself” attitude. Their 2010 release, “Shame, Shame” was a surprising outburst of the use of a full studio and complete mastering. Not to say that the production on “Be The Void” is lacking or shoddy, but it definitely carries back to that polarizing lo-fi traditional crunch that the band built their fortress on. The step back leans toward older releases like 2008’s “Fate,” but this time around the drums are richer and the guitars are brighter.
With the well acquainted replacement of former drummer Justin Stens, Eric Slick, and the annexation of live effects man, Dimitri Manos, “Be The Void” is the product of a slightly different makeup compared to previous Dr. Dog records. Thanks to Slick, the drums are more forceful, driving, and full. If anyone has ever seen a live show they might recognize Dimitri as the guy in the back playing with all of those fun effects. Now as an official member of the band, a lot more of those sounds can be heard on the actual record, especially percussion. A lot of the drum beats are laid with faint bongo samples and many of the snare hits are backed with a drum pad “snap.” While exciting at first, the snaps slowly become overdone and almost take away from Slick’s craft.
The songwriting on “Be The Void” is somewhat less intricate than what we’ve heard before. It’s stacked with more powerful, fast-paced rock songs such as “That Old Black Hole” as well as some very simple, much slower folky sounds. What also makes the sound of the album different from the other albums, as well as the pace and drive is the less frequent honky tonk piano which is replaced with cleaner, less syncopated chords by keyboardist Zach Miller. Fortunately for fans everywhere, the ooh’s and ah’s of the classic Dr. Dog power harmonies are still totally active in the band’s process along with the suspenseful guitar bends and riffs. “Do The Trick,” the familiar, old tune of lead singer, Scott McMicken features some very soothing backing vocal tracks that sound like something right off of the 2008 release, “Fate.”
Other songs also worth mentioning which I feel bring something slightly different to the table are, “How Long Must I Wait?” and “Heavy Light.” These two songs compliment each other as they sound intriguingly alike in the beginning yet differ enough as they build. Both, particularly, “How Long Must I Wait?” carry a style very similar to Shame, Shame bonus track “Black-Red.” The almost funky sound, not as recognizable with the average Dr. Dog track, is not unfamiliar enough that we couldn’t expect them to release it. And although I feel like I’m about to watch the World Cup in South Africa, the fifth song, “Get Away” is a dune rolling anger ballad worth accepting as a decent, consistent Dog song as well. Also accrediting the Leaman/McMicken track list alternation, the structure is a delicious, evenly layered cake that makes for something brand new. Maybe for some, it could put the “Beatle-grabbing” accusations to rest.
As for lyrical content, it’s the same kind of stuff. Tracks like “Turning The Century” sung by 60’s pop crooner, Scott, are surprisingly personal and intimate with his usually profound imagery. Songs like “These Days” from bassist and co-lead singer Toby Leaman still feature the soul gravel ballads of doubts about growing old and friendship. One song I would have left out of the final cut for the sake of the verbal content would be “Warrior Man”. Not only does the song remind me of a rebranded version of “Big Girl” with the exact chord progression, but the lyrics are juvenile compared to Toby’s other works. For instance, “I am the ancient warrior man…I invented the computer man” versus “The memories we’ve buried have just taken sea…When springtime comes they’ll turn into weeds and they’ll creep through your window to smother your dreams.”
None the less, the lyrical value overall and the album, as a whole, are absolutely something fresh with mostly similar themes; it is what we should expect from this songwriting duo and a talented group of musicians. Criticism of the band’s ability to complete an album with two completely different channels of songwriting and singing nearly goes right out the window right along with any other skepticisms. Whether a listener is a “die, die, die” hard Dr. Dog fan or they still have yet to get their first bite, it is highly likely anyone will fall in love with this Dr. Dog masterpiece.
My Personal Pick: “Vampire” – It’s definitely the “The Ark” and the “Alaska” of “Be The Void.” It slams hard, it whines; it leaves the audience guessing the chord progression, but then comes full circle in perfection. That’s what I love most about Toby songs.
Matthew Louridas is a student at West Chester University. He can be reached at ML740357@wcupa.edu.