Fifteen years on, Dr Dog show no signs of resting. The Philadelphia band are somewhat prolific. Critical Equation is their tenth album. But despite their experience (are band years like dog years, compressing more in than standard human time?) Dr Dog show retain energy, vigour, and style.
Glorious folk harmonies flicker throughout the songs, underpinned by a solid rhythm section and potent riffs. Rock’n’roll blends with folk, before being jilted by blues and styling out with indie. Styles merge and chords surge in an album that bristles with personality. The quintet, consisting of co-frontmen, Scott McMicken and Toby Leamen, guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, and drummer Eric Slick know each other well by now, and there’s a sense of homeliness and happiness to the album.
Listening In, the opening track, is a loose atmospheric tune that explores the voyeurism of dropping in on conversations. Ominous beats power on under clipped vocals and chiming chords. There’s an electro and synth feel to Go Out Fighting, where the tempo shifts up a notch into a dark stomper.
The fresh feeling Buzzing in the Light loops with a simple chorus that lingers on in your mind. A long opening chord gives way to a tender chord sequence and solemn vocals. The expansive and sprawling Virginia, Please originally started as an instrumental, which explains its open verse and single tracked lyrics. It’s got a happy and buoyant feel, with hints of summer breeze and festival fields.
Title track Critical Equation is nice, but doesn’t stand out as memorable. A tale of friendship, it’s a short melody centred around a simple musical refrain that opens out into a harmonising chorus.
Heart Killer and True Love stomp along with bluesy bravado, and as the speed races on so does the skillset of the band. Contagious and infectious choruses engage and entertain. They do better at these bright and bold singalong tunes than the melancholy tinged tunes.
Night is laced with gritty synths, whilst Under the Wheels is a bounding and bouncing stomper of a tune that explores the feeling of submitting to the forces beyond your control and going with the flow of life. Deep grooves roll along with measured intensity and propulsive beat on Go Out Fighting, the loose roll and happy chords incongruent with the darker lyrics. Coming Out of the Dark is a tingling song, stripped back to the basic melodies that weave themselves together like tapestry threads.
Recorded in Los Angles with producer Gus Seyffert, the aim was to capture a raw and authentic feel. “We wanted it to feel really live and be tracked in a live way,” says co-frontman Scott McMicken. Recorded to 16-track analogue tape, ‘Critical Equation’ blends 60s sounds with 70s aesthetics and modern day production techniques, and there’s a nice mix of relevance and nostalgia.
Is it the best Dr Dog album? Maybe not. But is it the one that’s right for now? I think it is.