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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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44.1 kHz Archive

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Dr. Dog
Easy Beat
National Parking

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 and you'll 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 influences.

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 distance.

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.

by Jenny Tatone

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