Mon. May 16th, 2022

Philadelphia rock band Dr. Dog’s musical history goes back further than one might think.

The band’s success and notoriety has grown at a steady pace for years now with strong indie-rock albums such as 2008’s “Fate “and 2012’s “Be The Void.” Known for their impressive live shows, the band’s origins date back to earlier than their first studio record, 2002’s “Toothbrush,” and also took place pretty close to home.

“The Psychedelic Swamp,” a collection of roughly recorded demos put together in the basement of lead singers Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, got a re-recording/re-release as a studio album on Friday, Feb. 5.

According to supposed Dr. Dog mythos and West Chester word-of-mouth, the “psychedelic swamp” itself was located in on Walnut Street back in the late 90s to early 2000s before the band made it big. The name came from the leaky pipes in the basement while the band was forming their voice and musical direction.

Dr. Dog’s most recent release, 2013’s “B-Room,” was an attempt at more polished production, which was done by the band themselves at their own self-made studio.

While it offered an expansion in the band’s songwriting, it lacked the experimentation and spontaneity of earlier songs such as “The Rabbit, The Bat, And The Reindeer” and “The Girl.” Their new album, however, returns them to their original format.

“The Psychedelic Swamp” opens with the dreamy “Golden Hind,” sung by ex-member Doug O’Donnell, who returns to the band for this release. The band utilizes its expertise at Beach Boys-style harmonies on this song, telling the audience, “I really care about you.” “Hind” is followed by “Dead Record Player,” a slinky Leaman penned tune driven by the rhythm section, using both high and low fidelities to attack your brain.

“Swampadelic Pop” comes next, sung by McMicken, with its tightly wound guitar lines and professional use of handclaps. McMicken transports you into the swamp with his reverbed vocals and freak synthesizers. The band has always been preferred pop musicality over authentic and rustic instrumentation, often taking them in several different musical directions.

When it comes to a band with two main songwriters, especially one that sounds like Dr. Dog, it is difficult to not compare them to one of their most obvious influences, The Beatles. However, it is difficult to discern who is John Lennon and who is Paul McCartney in this scenario. Leaman switches between the darkness of Lennon and the sweetness of McCartney seamlessly. On the other hand, McMicken channels McCartney’s melodic sense but also Lennon’s knack for experimentation.

This is especially true when it comes to the singles from the album, “Bring My Baby Back” and “Badvertise.” On the former, Leaman struggles with loss by saying that “love is a terminal,” passing through our lives without us realizing. The sentiment is strikingly Lennon-esque, but the arrangement sounds like a 70s solo McCartney tune. On “Badvertise,” McMicken leads the band through a “White Album” style rocker, achieving the studio magic of the Beatles, particularly the humor of Lennon.

It’s a shame that Dr. Dog never achieved the success to play arena-sized venues. Songs such as the back to back “Holes In My Back” and “Fire On My Back” would translate well to massive audiences with their broad, atmospheric instrumentation. Roughly 40 or 50 years ago, they would have played at Woodstock or toured with the Grateful Dead. Well, at least they aren’t just playing in basements anymore.

The album contains dopey little interludes such as “Swamp Decent” and “(swamp inflammation),” but that is all part of Dr. Dog’s mission to create a world within their music. Like most of their records, it is meant to be listened to in a single sitting to really experience the structures of the songs.

The theme of the record seems to be a celebration of music, especially when it comes to the retro sound that the band encapsulates. “The Psychedelic Swamp” becomes a metaphor for the journey that takes you into the realm of the music itself, and to the early days of the band. They become their younger selves through both jubilant excess and childlike melody.

Original versions of “Psychedelic Swamp” songs such as “Badvertise” and “Swamp Is On” can be found on YouTube. It is interesting to hear these versions and how the band looked within these musical mumblings to find actual songs. “Engineer Says,” one of the songs that can be found on the Internet from 15 years ago, was taken from a lo-fi mess to a dirty rocker, but it is still the same song.

“Engineer Says” also serves as a prequel of sorts to “Bring My Baby Back,” containing some of the same lyrics. Many of the songs on the record actually have lyrics that cross over and are repeated multiple times, connecting them in strange ways that only Dr. Dog would come up with.

On “In Love,” the band utilizes sound effects such as a chugging train passing through the earlier mentioned terminal. And with “Good Grief,” the band takes that final Charlie Brown kick for love before falling flat.

Dr. Dog previously brought “The Psychedelic Swamp” to Union Transfer back in September. This one-off show consisted of the band performing the album in its entirety with assistance from actors portraying the audience’s trip through the “Swamp.“

The band is currently on tour and will be playing the Fillmore in Philadelphia twice in the upcoming months: March 17 with Hop Along opening and April 16 with Speedy Ortiz.

With “The Psychedelic Swamp,” Dr. Dog not only recaptures the adolescence that made them so endearing in the first place, but also proves that they have grown as both performers and musicians by bringing them full circle.

Dr. Dog’s “The Psychedelic Swamp” is out now on Anti Records.

Tyler Asay is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at TA791988@wcupa.edu.

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