Be The Void
[Rating: 3 stars]
Bookended by the loose, ramshackle rattle of “Lonesome” and the twangy buzz of “Turning the Century,” Be the Void finds Dr. Dog resurrecting the vintage sounds of ‘60s psychedelia and ‘70s classic rock. It’s well-worn territory — these retro revivalists have been digging up the past for seven albums now — but Be the Void still feels like a new direction, possibly because it arrives two years after Shame, Shame, the cleanest, biggest-sounding album of the band’s career. If Shame, Shame marked the point where Dr. Dog began to clean themselves up, then Void finds them reveling in their smeary shagginess all over again, like a dog who’s broken its own leash and run off to the nearest mud slick.
There’s a sort of warts-and-all ethos to these songs, which were recorded last summer in a series of live sessions. The loose approach works wonders during the shorter tunes, where the guys churn up some organic grooves — a little stomp-clamp percussion here, a funky bass progression there — that suit the spontaneous music. Whenever Be the Void shoots itself into outer space, though, Dr. Dog wind up sounding aimless and untethered, as though they’ve exited earth’s atmosphere only to realize they don’t know how to get back down. “Vampire” leans heavily on a loud, abrasive chorus, which gets repeated multiple times during the song’s second half, and “Warrior Man” — a sort of sci-fi/British Invasion hybrid, complete with knockoff Beatles melodies and some mumbo-jumbo about inventing soda cans and hubcaps — could’ve used a co-producer like Shame, Shame’s Rob Schnapf to sift through the rubble and find the parts worth keeping.
Be the Void is all about instinct, about closing the studio doors to all outside collaborators and trusting the band’s collective gut. For the most part, it works. But “Warrior Man,” a jumbled idea that could’ve been a great song, is the sort of cautionary tale that keeps this album from matching Shame, Shame’s standards.