All signs suggest that the dudes of Dr. Dog like where they’re at. That’s in part a critique of the band’s imperturbable, easy breezy attitude, but it also goes a long way toward explaining the music. Early records like Toothbrush and Easy Beat took the band’s groovy, psych-laden jams in a decidedly lo-fi direction, but lately the band has gravitated toward a cleaner studio approach that better accents the finer points of its live set. That full-bodied approach began with 2010’s pristine Shame, Shame, and by the time of 2012’s Be The Void, it became evident that the band had successfully found a way to use the studio to its full advantage.
Given how well Dr. Dog have taken to the confines of the studio, it might come as little surprise that they eventually struck out and carved out a recording space to dwell in all their own. B Room, the band’s eighth full-length and third for Epitaph subsidiary ANTI- Records, is named for the studio space the band rehabbed out of the remnants of an abandoned mill outside of its native Philadelphia. That might make for an interesting back story, but as for the music contained therein, the song largely remains the same. B Room makes good on pretty much everything Dr. Dog fans have come to expect over the years, especially for those that jumped on board more recently. Front to back, the record is packed with quirky nods to the funky, soulfully melodic sounds of ’70s pop rock, with The Band serving as a particularly potent point of inspiration (more specifically, there’s a definite Cahoots vibe running through the band’s veins, and that’s not a complaint). Guitarist Scott McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman still share vocal duties, passing the mic back and forth in brotherhood like a roach, the general flavor of the record tastefully weird and eclectic, but also plenty catchy.
So, it’s established that this is a Dr. Dog record, one complete with all the hallmarks that come with that pedigree. But what else? Truth be told, not a whole lot. In simplest terms, B Room is a 100 percent linear move from Be The Void, which likewise was the lockstep progression from Shame, Shame. The third installment of this studio-driven trilogy, more than anything, is a testament as to just how settled the band is in its warped vision of ’60s and ’70s pop rock and psychedelia. You can see it coming immediately from the opening of “The Truth”, its harmonized vocals and light orchestration falling somewhere between Motown and “I Shall Be Released”. From there, the record is packed with lighthearted ramblers (“Broken Hearted”, “Rock and Roll”), country bumpkin folk (“Phenomenon”, “To Weak To Ramble”), and chilled-out odes to slacker bliss (“Distant Light”, “Long Way Down”).
It’s all been said and done, but it could almost be argued that this stay-the-course attitude the band has slipped into is completely by design. The analogy of the band building its own studio to hole up in is, in the end, pretty perfect. Dr. Dog have always seemed kind of lazing on their own musical island, and B Room comes off like a celebration of the band’s insulated musical intuition. Maybe it puts something of a low ceiling above its head by adhering too closely to the band’s recent efforts, but while little here stands out above other Dr. Dog records, the songs are still plenty good. And, that’s all that really matters, no? Trailblazers they’re not, but there’s something to be said about a band that commits itself fully to what it does well. The world’s full of bands, many of which never truly find their voice, but at least Dr. Dog seems to appreciate the fact that they’ve found something worth holding onto.
Essential Tracks: “Broken Heart”, “Distant Light”, and “Long Way Down”