Thanks, Dog: A Strangely Fitting Kinship
Though not always obvious, Dr. Dog’s singular advantage has always been their ability to craft songs as attentive to pop sensibility and accessibility as they are to creative high-mindedness. While not cataclysmic, industry-changing creations (the type of distinction heaped upon the Animal Collectives and Arcade Fires and White Stripeses of the world), the music waxed by Dr. Dog – songs that end up being traded, e-mailed, linked and placed on countless playlists and mixes – is more akin to a catalog of indie rock radio hits, sans the radio or any real criterion point for what constitutes a “hit”. Riding that peculiar notoriety, Dr. Dog has been an anomalous survival story in the perpetually fleeting tastemaker culture that they have striven to ignore. Quaint, I know.
With their seventh entry, released past February, the band did what it has been doing for nearly a decade. Be The Void is another scatter-shot offering of loaded pop that lacks any conventional flow. Dr. Dog gives you some rock songs, they throw around some rhythm and blues harmonies, they toy with a few programmed drum loops and they plant keys wherever they can on a thin analog recording palette. Having debuted on the Billboard 200 at #45, it is a predictably pseudo-psychedelic record primed for precisely the same place in fans’ hearts as 2010′s Shame, Shame. Whether it’s any better or worse than that album isn’t really worth objectively assessing because the band, as they’ve done with the rest of their discography, continues to stridently avoid pretense; of course, Pitchfork hated it and the AV Club loved it (per their usual antagonism), so you can subjectively do your own math.
But one new thing Dr. Dog has arguably achieved with this record is the weathering of an entire culture. Having enjoyed a baffling amount of longevity as an outsider throughout a hugely innovative enlightenment period of the mid-to-late 2000s, the band is still around in the early 2010s – a young decade that has already seen “indie” evolve from a culture into an industry where creativity isn’t simply an ethos but a viable commodity – and creeping ever closer to the center of mainstream popularity. And anyone who caught the band’s last tour is acutely aware that they have no plans of winding down their momentum. If anything, Dr. Dog is currently fueled by the energy of a band just out of the gate, and Be The Void is – above all else – evidence of their deceptive endurance.
But what of New Orleans, the band’s unassuming vacation home, the petri dish of primordial Dog gism that has been germinating for nearly seven years, crossbreeding itself with every little hermetical underground culture between Austin and Pensacola, reviving its own punk and experimental scenes and finding itself able to occasionally hoist a local act up to rock’s national D-list? Is Dr. Dog’s gradually building success an indication of our own imminent critical mass? If that’s the case, what have we weathered – if we’ve even weathered anything at all? The past would dictate that New Orleans has very little to offer, but anyone who’s attended a local independent rock concert in the last year and a half would reject any notion of historical recurrence because of how undeniably and thrillingly different everything feels at this moment.
Nevertheless, there is perhaps no greater example of “deceptive endurance” than the Crescent City, with its historically community-oriented attitude towards the arts and its deep artistic lineage of economic tone-deafness. As of yet, the city has managed to shamelessly cash in on its own appeal but hasn’t necessarily brought anything new to the American zeitgeist in the process. At the very least, it hasn’t found its own Dr. Dog, a homegrown rock n’ roll whirlwind of national excitement capable not just of finding widespread popularity but of aesthetically influencing a geographically disparate populace. Perhaps, in the callow little indie rock community of New Orleans, there’s a fortification of talent so unique and immense that someone else has to pay attention. And perhaps, like Dr. Dog circa 2012, it’s time for that talent to demarginalize itself.Continue Reading: 1 2