Dr. Dog – Fate
By Rikki O.
Scott McMicken (Taxi) – lead woof+mud distortion guitar, vocals
Toby Leaman (Tables) – finger bass, vocals, rhythm stomp
Zach Miller (Text) – keyboardings, some guitar/singing
Juston Stens (Trouble) – drums, harmonies, embellishments
Frank McElroy (Thanks) – multi-string guitar, full-grip chords, vocal nuances
Philidelphia based 5 piecer Dr. Dog is back with their sixth studio release with Park The Van Records. Aptly titled “Fate”, the record has been described by the band as “the album we were destined to make” and in many ways it is indeed something of an apex (thus far) for the group whose psychedelic throwback sound evokes feel-good porch songs of times past – without sounding ripped off or recycled to death. After 11 years together, Dr. Dog has managed to hold on to their signature lo-fi production sound, while tweaking the songs into more musically evolved, catchy pop gems with a newfound complexity that demands attention and thought unlike so much of the mindless soundmaking in the indie world as of late.
Dr. Dog first entered mainstream consciousness thanks to magazine-cover darlings My Morning Jacket, who took the band on tour back in 2004. Since then, they have opened for illustrious acts such as The Raconteurs, M. Ward and The Black Keys, appeared on NPR, Conan O’Brian, David Letterman, and toured summer festivals to a growing mass of die-hard fans. Their straightforward hooks and willing to experiment with song structure and melodies have proven that they are among the leaders of the rock revivalist movement, picking and choosing from the best of what was and morphing it into a sound that is both timeless and contemporary. The album cover for Fate itself, a handsewn remake of one of the most notorious images ever captured of Bonnie and Clyde, hints at their willingness to go down in a blaze of glory for the passion of their craftmanship, lyrics blazing and wild-eyed all the way.
Soft-spoken harmonies begin the album with opening track “The Breeze” – (“Are you moving much too fast and the good times just don’t last/ If you’re always on the go/ Make an angel in the snow and freeze/ Do you feel like you’re stuck in time/ forever waiting on that line/ If nothing ever moves/ put that needle to the groove and SING…”) Jangly guitars and woodwind instrumentation provide tantalizing clues that “Fate” is ages away from your average retro-ravaged offering. McMicken (Taxi) and Leaman (Tables) share vocals on many of the tracks, marking an intriguing blend of sweet and youthful with experience-worn voices that lend an original approach and charm to the songs. Broken-hearted parlour piano with a hint of gospel creates the backbone of “Hang On,” the second track that shines with slide guitar and echoing vocals ripping out lyrics like “And what you though was a hurricane/ Was just the rustling of the wind/ Why you think we need amazing grace/ Just to tell it like it is/ Well, I don’t need no doctor to tear me all apart/ I just need you, to mend my heart.”
“The Old Days” is the first single off of “Fate”, and it affirms that genuineness can indeed make up for what critics might harp on as being stuck in the past. Catchy and airy piano keep the album flowing back to the good old days where adventure is what you make of your day, while little smatterings of the unexpected chanting keep everything fresh and relevant. One of my personal favorites is the evocative “The Ark”, one of the most lyrically evolved songs poetically sung and growled by Leaman ( “God, he called for rain/ so I built an ark but no rain came;/ I was ashamed, Love, she asked for more/ But what I gave her only made her poor/ I wasn’t sure”). Because each song ends in a different place than it began and because of the uncombed and easy grace each member of the band contributes to this journey, “Fate” is a unique sojourn that truly has no throw-aways. I dare the haters out there to find another modernistic album out there that can say the same. I thought not.