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Music Review: Dr. Dog – We All Belong

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Dr. Dog, a rock band with a strong classic feel, recalls the AM rockers of the 70s in their straight ahead, melodic rock. Like a lot of those groups, they fill out their sound with piano and other assorted instruments, giving a band of grandeur to otherwise uncomplicated music. I don’t say uncomplicated as an insult, this is a great disk for people who are looking for a sound that’s largely disappeared from mainstream radio and most of indie music. If you told me this album was recorded in 1975, I wouldn’t argue with you, and I think that’s a compliment.

While I love a lot of what hip hop and synth pop have brought to music, it is refreshing to hear a band that can do it like they used to. Yes, there’s an element of conservatism in working in a style that’s largely vanished from the mainstream, but there’s a lot of bands out there, and not everyone needs to be an innovator. The band draws on a wide enough variety of sounds and styles that it remains fresh throughout.

“My Old Ways” is an uptempo pop song that harmonizes in a way that would make the Beach Boys proud. Throughout, the band uses backing vocals to fill out the songs, a touch that helps make them special. The interplay between the ascending bass line and the “Aahhhh” backup vocals on “Keep a Friend” is what makes the song work. “The Girl” also uses a strong bassline and vocal harmonizing as the structuring element, though this time with a heavier, driving feel.

My major issue with this album is the texture of the sound. I’m not sure if it was an issue with the recording or a deliberate choice, but everything sounds like it was taped off a cassette and then put onto the CD. There’s a layer of haze over the recording, and that makes it much tougher to get into the songs. Buried under the haze, a lot of the songs blend together. That kind of fuzzy sound can work for a band like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but I don’t think that’s the intention here. It’s either a misguided production choice or a case of poor recording.

The other issue is simultaneously the record’s strength and weakness. I love the fact that this sounds like something you’d pick up off the shelf in the 70s, but the way we look at that era today, the best songs have risen to the top, and a lot of midlevel, weak songs have drifted away. Compared against your average 70's album, I’d imagine this one would come off pretty well. But, next to the best pop rock of the era, We All Belong doesn’t quite match up.

It’s got a lot of great sounds, but lacks the instant catchiness of the best pop rock. None of the songs are particularly catchy, they’re all enjoyable in the moment, but they don’t linger with you after the album. Listening to the album, it’s a good piece of work, but I felt no particular desire to go back and listen to it again after putting it down. And, other than the epic closing title track, there’s no real masterpieces here. But, ultimately, how much can we ask of an album. It’s totally entertaining in the moment, and after a few more listens, the songs might sink their way deeper into my brain. For now, it’s only a good album, not a great one.

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