2010 seems inordinately jam-packed with new albums from bands I'm already pretty fond of. See also Vampire Weekend, Spoon, Four Tet, the Ruby Suns, and Midlake—not to mention upcoming albums from LCD Soundsystem, the Radio Dept., and the New Pornographers, among others I'm probably forgetting.
Dr. Dog, too. I'm not sure it was the album I was most looking forward to, but it was up there. (For the record, Midlake was probably the one I was most eager to hear; it's also the most disappointing by a wide margin.) Fate, their album from 2008, has in hindsight turned out to be my favorite album of that year. The band's unabashed love of rock and roll—not merely "classic rock," as they so often get pigeonholed, but catchy, fun, inventive, not-too-serious, not-too-effervescent rock. Harmonies. Great choruses. Guitar solos. Also smart lyrics and just enough subversion to keep things interesting.
Like so many awesome bands in rock history, from the Beatles to Big Star to Sonic Youth to Fugazi to the New Pornographers and a million bands in between, Dr. Dog benefits from having two lead singer/songwriters. Fate was especially successful because it was set up like a conversation between Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, each song loosely revolving around the title theme. It made the every-other-song-is-by-the-other-guy nature of the album compelling, like each song was a response to the last one.
Shame, Shame, the new one, is structured more or less the same way—a back and forth between the two songwriters. It also sounds a helluva lot like Fate. The new album was produced by Rob Schnapf, and the band's publicists are making a point to note that this is the band's first time letting an outside producer in. If Fate was self-produced, then Schnapf wisely seems to have stayed out of the band's way in the studio. The overall sound, and the vibe of the songs, is right in line with where the band has already been.
On first listen this was kinda deflating, kinda fine by me. There's an old saying about not fixing un-broke things, so in a way I can't complain. (After all, I just happily bought my sixth Spoon album.) But at the same time Shame, Shame can't help but feel less fresh. (I haven't heard the band's pre-Fate stuff; if I had, would I have felt that way about that album?) Too, the album doesn't seem to hold together thematically the way the last one did, so the back and forth between Leaman and McMicken seems less essential, like the pacing of the record didn't really matter as much as the democracy of their songwriting partnership.
So, let me just emphasize that all of those thoughts occurred to me on first listen. That was, like, five days ago. Some things have changed.
For one, pretty much all these songs are just as good as anything else I've ever heard them do! Can't really knock a band that consistently writes excellent songs. And really that's the bottom line. All that really matters is that I've been listening to this album two, three times a day every day since I bought it, and I don't really see things slowing down. Take another look at that list of albums I was looking forward to in the first paragraph for some perspective: the Spoon and Vampire Weekend albums are pretty good (and also fall into the "pleasantly more of the same" category), but their time in my headphones has fallen off; the Four Tet and Ruby Suns albums kinda floated right past me, and the Midlake is a dog. So what do you know: Dr. Dog, so far, has made my favorite album of the year.
- Dr. Dog: Where'd All the Time Go?