Outside the doors of modern Western pop, a handful of groups have slowly built some of the strongest music catalogues of their generation. They’re hard to find - nowadays anyone can make an album annually with minimal public concern - but they exist in bursts to punch a hole in the promo machine. Here’s to one of them: I don’t care what lazy adjectives are being heaped on your local indie/jam/punk band, Dr. Dog own their asses.

They are one of the finest American pop bands of the last decade, with largely indifferent attention from indie press and radio only strengthening the loyalty of their fan base. Bands with no blogs to back them may find a hard time surviving for years, but there’s something about the Philadelphia group’s out-of-time sound - a mix of dance hall  piano ballads, Beatles harmony, and nervy lyricism - that solidifies their legacy. Fashionability is not a primary concern, and this is indie rock in name only.

Building off the impeccable We All Belong (2007) and the career summit Fate (2008), Shame, Shame is a curious but endlessly rewarding album, one that attempts to replicate Dr. Dog’s legendary live shows to greater effect than previous LPs. Whether that is reached successfully, I’ll leave up to groupies to decide, but the sound is certainly meatier than before; “Stranger” opens up with a big, fat bass line, and compared to sparse Fate lead-in “The Breeze”, it’s amazingly confident.

It should be noted to newbies that the group has dual frontmen; Toby Leaman holds the traditional voice, with a nostalgic tone contrasting Scott McMicken’s sharper, more immediate delivery. Leaman’s cheeky “Stranger” contrasts perfectly with “Shadow People”, McMicken’s look at the decay of his hometown, and the back and forth between styles is one of their great appeals. It makes me wonder why more bands don’t allow multiple voices to represent them.

It’s hard to say which of the pair is the better songwriter, though McMicken’s voice usually leads to grander climaxes, as in the momentum-heavy “Where’d All the Time Go?” Leaman holds court on grooves reminiscent of The Band and Southern rock, as on the album’s beautiful closer and title track, with assistance from My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, whose subtle contribution lifts the song even higher than you’d think the anthemic group were capable of.

“Jackie Wants a Black Eye” is vintage Dr. Dog, possibly the album’s best track, taking what would seem to be a personal story and expanding it to cinemascope, begging hundreds of potential voices to sing along. “We’re all in it together now / as we all fall apart”, McMicken sings, and even as the band plays on like the relatively brief love-ins of the ‘60s never ended, it feels timeless and free of boundaries. The band’s best albums might be behind them, but Shame, Shame is another great collection to reward the fans still hangin’ on, as one of their lyrics might go.

51WU7By_A1L._SS500_.jpgArtist: Dr. Dog
Album: Shame, Shame (ANTI-, 40 minutes)
Rating: 4/5
Key Tracks: “Jackie Wants a Black Eye”, “Shame, Shame”, “Shadow People”

Dr. Dog website

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