When I first sat down to write this review, I
convinced myself that this was the best record I had
heard in some time. That was I guess what you'd call
my angle: "This is the best album I've heard in some time!"
But now that I've spent more time with the album, I
can see that it doesn't have the power over me that
other greats had over me in the past. When I first
heard The Strokes' Is This It? I couldn't stop
listening to it. I listened to it to death; it
validated my feelings on a daily basis. But I don't
listen to it anymore; I can't, it shoots me back to a
time I'd rather not visit. That is how strongly Is This It?
affected me. Philadelphia-based Dr. Dog's Easy Beat doesn't do
that now, and maybe it never will.
Does that make it a bad album? Absolutely not. Do you
really want every album to impact you with such force
that, months later, you can't even listen to it? No.
Sometimes you just want something easy something beautiful and moving and passionate around. And
that's what I've determined Easy Beat is for
lack of a better term, "easy listening." Only not like some lame Adult Pop radio easy listening. This is "easy listening" the way Rubber Soul or #1 Record or an R.E.M. album is "easy listening." It's the sort
of music you want playing when you're kicking back at
home, lying around reading, chatting with friends, or
whatever it is you like to do in your spare time.
But there's more to Dr. Dog's music than that. The band (who went from complete
obscurity to being on pretty much every rock critic in the world's radar following
a rave New York Times review)
have serious talent and interesting, original musical
ideas more than enough to stand out from most any
other new band or solo artist out there at the moment. Unquestionably,
right off the bat, you'll hear The Beatles and perhaps those Elephant Six bands
think: "Hmm, retro, eh?" But this doesn't kill it for
you. Somehow, you can still feel it, you can still dig
it without feeling cheated. They've got something else
going on that makes the borrowing acceptable their
unique, combined talents seem to outshine their
Maybe it's because they're not trendy in any way, and their work doesn't signal "sign of the times." Their raw recordings hardly attach
themselves to anything happening today. While the mid-to-late-'60s
feel is undeniable (and they've clearly listened to Big Star too), their songs are so refreshing they
make you feel like the lucky winner of something new
and practically untouched. You feel grateful
you've found this music.
But there's also something that feels comforting and
nostalgic. You hear the Otis Redding-by-way-of-a-very-young-Paul McCartney soulful
feel (sung by guitarist Scott McMicken) and
"shew whop, shew whop"s on the opening track, "The
World May Never Know," and it makes you feel warm and a
little bittersweet, but not terribly so it's still
easy, but it touches you, too, and makes you want to stay
for the full ride.
"The Pretender" swings with a sense of heartbreak and
letting go as guitars climb up and fall back down in
despair and some of the fellows yelp in the back room. "I only want you to
be happier," bassist Toby Leaman cries out as
if he's on his knees, strained by his own sincerity;
meanwhile, his bandmates sing heavenly harmonies in the
The guitar lines on "Oh No" sound like a sped-up
version of those on Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of
the Bay" while McMicken sings
sweetly of love and being "two peas in a pod" before
the song breaks down into a Sgt.
Peppers-esque jam session featuring Zach Miller keyboard work, flighty
strings, and free-flowing harmonies made more of "do"s
and "dah"s than actual words.
The title track is the most derivative of The Beatles, as seen in
McMicken's distant, unmistakably McCartney-influenced
singing and lighthearted backup "oooh"s in the background. You'll also
feel a little Changes-era Bowie thanks to the
otherworldly effects and sometimes fuzzed-out cries.
"The Dutchman Falls" sounds like a sad, old, ragged soul
song. The drums are hit with the weight of a feather,
the sluggish acoustic guitar struggles hopelessly to
be strummed and Leaman sounds completely
devastated as he wails, drawing out the line, "Nobody
cares, nobody cares but me" again and again.
If there's any alternative/punk influence on the
album, it's on "Fools Life," which alternates between
emotional, delicate strumming and cooing that
sometimes sneers like Richard Hell and crashing,
aching repetition and screams that sound like murder
or The Stooges.
"Today" perhaps made with "sugar and lemonade"
brings to mind a less experimental Modest Mouse with
its matter-of-fact singing, jangly indie rock riffs,
sunny melodies and colorful lyrics. "The tiniest
things are forever," McMicken sings. "Drop a couple coins and a feather/ And
watch them float away at the same time."
Dr. Dog might not save my life or change my world
forever, but I have a feeling Easy Beat will be
spinning pretty frequently around my place, reminding
me not to take life too seriously.