Dr. Dog – Fate

Dr. Dog

Choosing to do something they haven’t done since their debut and sophomore albums, the quintet decided to record and release an album within a year of their previous effort. Maybe it was the touring with Wilco, or all the garnered attention from last year’s stellar album from sources like Rolling Stone — as well as yours truly — or maybe all of the TV appearances but on Fate, Dr. Dog sound like a matured and accomplished veteran band.

Lead single, “The Old Ways” — conspicuously named like last year’s lead single, “My Old Ways” — is a catchy, fun, hummable song. Featuring the band’s joyous singing, the added country-tinged piano and guitar are great choices and the chaotic electric guitars deliver a superb juxtaposition. A lot of the attention here is focused on the band’s guitar ability and their knack at creating interesting style fusions. This all comes full circle with the engaging guitar solo at the end of the song.

The Philadelphia-bred canines have always had their unfair share of detractors. They’re too retro for the indie crowd and too indie for the mainstream crowd, too poppy for the rockers and too disjointed for the poppers. Whatever the silly issues are, the endearing aspects remain constant; three-part harmonies, distinctive melodies and hook-filled songs.

A lot of the scrappy, loosely-layered and arranged music that was a prevalent feature on We All Belong is missing from the new album. It’s hard to know whether this is a fault or simply a clean progression because the music is as good as ever and in many ways, much more refined. Clear highlight, “The Breeze” is a polished, pop/rock gem complete with gentle guitar strumming, counseling lyrics and gorgeous music. The lyrics are filled with imagery and oxymoron as Scott McMicken sings, “Do you get dizzy on the ground? There must be something going ‘round. What blows us here today, will blow us all away…the breeze.” The song fittingly ends with a melodic looping synthesizer line and soaring, towering vocals and harmonies. It’s easily one of the best songs Dr. Dog has made.

Although the band have chosen to leave behind some of their ragged approaches, they offer enough shining moments to keep their closest fans close and attract new fans. McMicken still delivers his shrieking yelps on the driving, jazzy-horned “Army of Ancients” and “The Beach”’s slow, gradual chug is one of the Dog’s many trademarks. The latter features downtrodden, gritty, rough music and lyrics, much in the same vein of last year’s penultimate song, “Die Die Die.”

The uniting theme of life and in turn, faith, is a common one on the album. All of the songs are tied into the album’s transcendent title through discreet manners like a one liner here, a chord change there or even a stark combination of both here. A propelling song like “The Rabbit, The Bat, and the Reindeer” is decorated with three-part singing, 70s-style guitars and piano tinkling as McMicken sings “Should we pretend that it’s the end? Are you my curse, are you my friend?”

Ultimately, this is a winner and though it may not offer the new, revelatory sounds and styles that some were hoping, in the end it wins out because of its heart. There is something to be said about the sincere, genuine and honest music Dr. Dog creates. And with Fate, they have succeeded in nailing a terrific follow-up to the wide-acclaim of last year’s album.