Dr. Dog Trip Out With ‘The Psychedelic Swamp’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Dr. Dog have never been an easy band to put a ready handle on. Their aggressive posture and penchant for psychedelia finds them akin to a spontaneous jam band in some regards, and has given them a populist kind of precept as well and classified them as indie insurgents overall. It’s a baffling mix to be sure, but one that finds some increased clarification with each new release.

Well, sort of anyway. Their new album isn’t really new at all, but rather a return to their early independent opus that was released prior to their signing with the respected label ANTI. As bassist Toby Leaman recently told one scribe, it’s kind of like a covers album and yet all the songs happen to be theirs. It’s a weird concept, but not one that’s unheard of. Natalie Merchant recently returned to her solo debut Tigerlilly and re-recorded it as an update of sorts, a concession to the fact that she’s simply better in the studio than she was early on. Other artists have done the same thing, either for the sake of creating a new form of greatest hits, compiling a concert collection or simply re-staking their claim to older material their former record company might own.

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Besides, given its limited distribution, many people probably haven’t even heard Dr. Dog’s original recording in its initial incarnation, which, for all intent and purposes, makes Psychedelic Swamp a new offering overall. Still, with its haphazard melodies and sprawling designs, it’s also clear that the band had not yet emerged fully formed. Like Pavement and Guided By Voices, Dr. Dog’s dedication to a lo-fi indie motif often made them appear quite elusive as far as songs and set-ups were concerned. And while they’ve made some effort to court the mainstream media of late, any belated appeal runs afoul of their earlier intents.

Consequently, there’s little here that provides listeners with a really firm grasp. On numbers like “Golden Hind,” “Swampadelic Pop,” “Holes In My Back,” “Swamp Descent” and “Engineer Says,” the material is so out of focus, it sometimes seems muddled. The occasional spark that’s lit in songs such as “Fire On My Back” (versus the aforementioned “Holes In My Back” one might presume) and the unusually plaintive “Bring My Baby Back” offer some measure of cohesion, but not enough to mitigate the murky circumstances encountered overall. It’s an interesting malaise, but hardly the kind that has any hope of expanding their reach.

Ultimately, this new take on The Psychedelic Swamp mainly serves to bring recent admirers up to speed, and give them access to Dr. Dog’s backstory through full disclosure, As for those who remain on the fence, Dr. Dog haven’t provided the feel-good prescription both band and fans might have hoped for.

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