Fifteen years in the future, Dr. Dog has cracked open the time capsule of The Psychadelic Swamp. The band’s ninth studio album is not only a concept album about a rambling and mysterious journey through a swamp, but also an official release of the OG Dr. Dog’s self-released Psychadelic Swamp from 2001, heretofore only found as bootlegged copies. The band has worked exclusively off of old material, either revamping original tracks from the first Psychadelic Swamp or taking inspiration from old tracks to form new, better ones: a glimpse of the evolution of a band in action.
Ex-member Dave O’Donnell, part of the original group when Dr. Dog formed in and around the turn of the millenium, returns to feature in the album, reprising his role as guitarist and occasional vocalist before his departure in 2004. Toby Leaman, one of the main vocalists of Dr. Dog, has admitted that the original Psychadelic Swamp was almost unlistenable; the long-term plan of the band has always been to revisit and reshape their first album, and make it more accessible to listeners. While most of the 2001 version is keyboard, the official release has the “whole studio treatment.”
As a concept album, the swamp wanderings are very well-suited to reflect the layering, variability, and telltale creativity that Dr. Dog incorporates into their music. The style reflected in this album is still at its core classic Dr. Dog, with heavy influence from 1950s-70s pop rock. However, as a personal homage to the band both old and new, the tracks bounce around from sleek garage rock (think Spoon, White Stripes) to low-fi psych rock (Of Montreal, Tame Impala).
The album eases the listener in with “Golden Lion,” an acoustic/electric guitar blend with the deep, subdued vocals of O’Donnell floating above. The chorus changes style abruptly, echoing a sound associated with the Flaming Lips. The end of the track brings a crescendo of synth, cymbal, and vocal harmonies, all resembling waves. On “Dead Record Player,” the classic Dr. Dog sound returns in force with whining electric guitars, thumping drums, rhythmic clapping, and vocal harmonies ever-present in the background. The absurdist lyrics serve as an ode to vinyl and the joy of listening to records, ending in a shouted verse: “The music is killing me/The high and low fidelities are attacking my brain/And it’s terrific/The music sounds just great/Just terrific.”
“Bring My Baby Back” and “Engineer Says” serve as brilliant musical foils to the same lyrical theme, a melancholy lament about love lost. In “Bring My Baby Back,” the self-described “emo” lyrics are disguised behind a light pop ballad, modernized with synth snippets. “Engineer Says” returns after a few tracks to the story, but this time the music is sparse, dark, and foreboding: the harmonies are sinister, the guitar snarling and rowdy, the saxophone solo rambling and urgent.
There are other peculiar gems in the sprawling album: “Badvertise” begins with retro video game audio over a dark base melody before erupting into a rollicking garage pop song. “swamp inflammation” is a weird and unexpected bit of performance art, involving spoken ramblings about a swamp to a new wave background. This funky little interlude lasts forty-two seconds before it is swept away. The album ends with “Swamp Is On,” which closes the album neatly as an homage to both the concept running through the tracks, as well as the band itself. It serves as a message to loyal followers that the OG Dr. Dog may be gone, but is certainly not forgotten.
Album released: February 5, 2016
–review by Juliana Van Amsterdam