The Pitt News

Dr. Dog’s latest release lacks stand-out sound

By Matt Singer / Senior Staff Writer

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 B-Room

 Dr. Dog

ANTI- Records

Grade: C

Sounds like: That one Dr. Dog song you’ll never like enough to buy on vinyl.

When a band ceases to be innovative, its reliability often makes up for its lack of groundbreaking work. But with some bands, this reliability sometimes waxes and wanes, and venerable bands that usually put out enjoyable albums — albeit predictable — sometimes have a hiccup, and fans are left unsatisfied.

That’s exactly where B-Room leaves us.

The eighth album by Dr. Dog, B-Room isn’t anything special. The band’s genre-bending, folksy, somewhat-psychedelic, occasionally lo-fi sound has been around for more than a decade, so listeners accustomed to its music will note that the biggest innovation on B-Room might be its lack thereof. The album is a stripped-down and simplistic 12-song stretch that sees Dr. Dog trading in some of its post-production sounds for a more Motown-type feel, but not even that is enough for the album to really pop or stand out in some sort of oddly noticeable way, as the band’s older albums did. 

While many of Dr. Dog’s albums do sound similar, the better ones stand apart from one another by having some sort of distinction. That being said, the biggest problem with B-Room might be that it’s not enough like Be the Void or one of the band’s other stronger albums.

The album does have a couple of tracks that are keepers. “Phenomenon” has a steel-string feeling to it that mixes a nice amount of reverberation with lead vocalist Scott McMicken’s voice. And as the banjo riffs get a little fancy toward the chorus, the instrument’s delicate pluckings are complemented by percussion to give certain parts of the song an umph that makes it seem like a quick-paced foot-tapper. 

The album’s third song, “Minding the Usher,” is one of the best on the album, as it’s whiny in all the right Dr. Dog ways. It’s slow to build for about the first 50 seconds, but then it speeds up to a steady sway. The song’s ending is a gradual fading into silence with stronger-than-usual guitar chords decorating the otherwise predominantly breezy soundscape.

But these two songs are most likely to be lost in the annals of Dr. Dog’s discography, serving as just two more nods to the band’s reputation as solid performers amid their already vast discography. And if two of the best songs on an album don’t measure up to anything more than just run-of-the-mill contenders for the title of “that one good Dr. Dog song off the album you can’t remember,” what does that say for B-Room as a whole?

It says that it’s boring, and that it’s like most other Dr. Dog albums minus any semblance of a wow factor. But diagnosing the cause of that may be easier said than done, with the only real evidence pointing to the eponymous B-room in which the album was recorded.

The band members took it upon themselves to renovate a former silversmith mill on the outskirts of western Philadelphia into a recording studio, choosing to trade in their former studio for a bare-bones setting, and apparently the minimalist atmosphere crept its way into the music. 

As previously mentioned, Dr. Dog was shooting for a Motown-esque soul sound on this album, and the reliance on vocals to achieve that may be why so much of the composition falls flat — a very big problem for a band whose interesting sound is contingent on fascinating instrumentals.

Compounding that problem is the trouble McMicken seems to have had transitioning his voice from having soul to being soulful. So many of Dr. Dog’s songs are home to impassioned pleas, warbling lullabies and soft-spoken, hushed tones. No one can accuse the band’s vocals and lyrics of sounding insincere. But there is a clear divide between the songs having a sound of conviction and them sounding like soul music, and the tracks on B-Room fall short of that measurement.

The idea of falling short really seems to be the preeminent theme of this album. It just doesn’t shine or stand out compared to some of Dr. Dog’s other, stronger releases. The album is lackluster, and slogging through it in the hopes of discovering at the very end that it all fit together into some beautiful puzzle that could only be seen in retrospect is, sadly, for naught. 

The best thing about B-Room is that it’s forgettable: Not too long from now, it will almost be as if Dr. Dog never put out this banal CD — hopefully.

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Dr. Dog’s latest release lacks stand-out sound