Dr. Dog’s 6th studio LP, Be The Void, offers up sharp lyrical twists, quirky psychedelic rock, and exhilarating vigor that harkens back to when these prolific freaks were just “fearless weirdoes in a basement.” Building on the success of 2010’s introspective Shame, Shame, which catapulted the band into Billboard’s #44 slot, Dr. Dog and indie super label ANTI- records team up for an encore effort.
Staying true to the Philly band’s trademark recipe, lead guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman each contribute about half a dozen cuts to the album. Alternating between the two songwriters from track to track, we can fully appreciate the distinctive styles of Dr. Dog’s dual creative engines. Leaman’s cuts – visceral, frantic, and driven by the bassist’s gravely, smoky voice – perfectly complement McMicken’s tracks, which develop more gradually, featuring sparse guitar riffs that push his rich, witty lyrics to the foreground.
Opening ditty “Lonesome,” a tribute to the elegant simplicity of isolation, kicks off with a country twang and Leaman’s commanding, gutsy vocals. Transitioning to ethereal, spacey echoes and ambient hooting on single “That Old Black Hole,” McMicken navigates a barrage of apparent contradictions and poetic oxymora with impeccable economy: “These are tears of joy / cried the weeping willow.”
On “How Long Must I Wait,” journeyman drummer Eric Slick kicks in a blusterous smack of percussion. Set to an R&B beat with a fuzzy bass and crisp, teardrop guitar licks, Dr. Dog gripes about those long promised payoffs that never seem to arrive. Leading with a playful shaker, freewheeling, up-tempo “These Days” is drenched with youthfully exuberant guitar riffs and a fundamentally basic bass line that plays as a flawlessly simple pop song.
Atop stiff piano and trippy electronic effects, “Do the Trick” finds McMicken, battered and bruised, reaching out for the luster of fresh love. With tinges of plucky self-deprecation, the singer lays out his predicament: “Burned the candle on every side / Long since run out of wick.” Tentative yet unmistakably optimistic, he wonders whether a midnight tryst could provide some relief from these shadowy tribulations: “Won’t you be my flame tonight? / Will you do the trick?”
Roaring in agony and dripping with contempt, cathartic “Vampire” has Leaman playing vindictive in exposing an erstwhile lover as a controlling, manipulative, bloodsucking harpy. The singer’s sneering howls toe the line between carnal and animalistic, coming across as a volatile blend of naughty, reckless, and violent energy. In stark contrast, nonchalant, indolent “Turning the Century” wraps up the album with cool disregard and the low-tuned drone of an Italia Mondial sitar-guitar that evokes the eastern-inspired instrumentation of George Harrison.
Throughout the LP, each of McMicken’s richly layered tracks conveys a unique fragment of human sentiment through enthralling guitar riffs, crafty lyrics, and flustered vocals. On the other hand, as the album unfolds, several of Leaman’s cuts – especially the bloated five-plus minute “Big Girl” and unapologetically trite “Warrior Man” – blend together as formulaic genre pieces. Rife with throwaway lyrics and unoriginal ooh-wah choruses, these schmaltzy numbers all but spoil the album’s otherwise laudable back end. Though some of these songs may be salvaged by the bassist’s signature raspy yowl – it’s a close call.
Despite failing to live up to the admittedly unrealistic expectations set by their two previous offerings, Be The Void matches guitarist Scott McMicken’s clever lyrics, precise riffs, and quivery vocals to the rare glottal gift and intricate bass work of Toby Leaman in this jumble of freaky throwbacks, reflective ruminations, and spontaneous psychedelic bursts.