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Dr. Dog: Shame, Shame
The Philly-based five-piece Dr. Dog must occasionally get tired of teetering on the edge of indie stardom without ever falling into the crevasse. For the last five years or so, they’ve been the band most likely to, thanks to a critically (and aurally) appealing sound that calls to mind the best of ‘60s rock without feeling painfully retro and a work ethic that’s found them playing with everyone from Cold War Kids to The Raconteurs, gaining all sorts of accolades (and the cover of the very magazine you’re reading) along the way.
Shame, Shame is the band’s best record—better even than 2008’s fairly exemplary pseudo-concept album, Fate, but the reason it’s so good is exact same reason that’s sustained the band for the better part of a decade. In a word, Dr. Dog makes exacting, complex music that feels completely effortless.
That only becomes clear when you study the music in the way the members of Dr. Dog have studied decades of rock history. Rollicking songs like “I Only Wear Blue,” with its thump-tacular bassline and occasional Rhoades splashes, feel familiar on the surface only; dig deeper for its imperfections (in this case, a missed harmony and someone, well, barking like a dog in the background, plus a spectacularly messy coda), and its clear that the band put so much effort into the songwriting that it can afford some studio liberties. Other tunes—the piano-driven “Unbearable Why,” the strangely uplifting “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” (which may or may not be about domestic abuse)—are filled with groove and harmony, but never sacrifice the band members’ trademark quirk: an unusual style of charm that suggests they’d have a lot to talk about if they ever found themselves in a room with Wes Anderson.
You’ll swear you’ve heard the lilting acoustic rambler “Shadow People” somewhere before, but that’s exactly why it (and the band, in general) works: there’s an intangibility in Dr. Dog’s best music that many bands strive for, but very few achieve. Unlike their forbears (The Beatles; The Beach Boys), the members of Dr. Dog may never change the world, but they’ll write a slew of catchy songs while they try.
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