Over the past 15 years Philadelphia’s psychedelic powerhouse Dr. Dog have been pushing the envelope against the grain, to borrow a phrase. While similar acts seem to burn out or revert to mainstream sentiments, today’s release of Dr. Dog’s 9 studio album The Psychedelic Swamp, from their own Meth Beach studios, proves there’s corners of the light fantastic yet to trip.
Dr. Dog might not ever be a household name on par with past bands celebrated for their emphasis on altered states of consciousness, like Phish, the Disco Biscuits, or the Grateful Dead. But neither have they ever presented much of an ambition toward common acceptance. Despite the jangling riffs, koan prose poetry, and sonic miasma Dr. Dog isn’t really out to corner the dazed, dorm-room crowd or their older cosmic adventurer counterparts. The band’s discography is spacey to be certain, from the first strains of 2005’s Easy Beat to the closing bars of last year’s excellent road album, Live at the Flamingo Hotel, but that doesn’t mean they can be so easily labeled.
A closer inspection of Psychedelic Swamp reveals just how musically intelligent Dr. Dog as a working group really is. On past albums, say the stellar, Be the Void, a pretty linear rock format was incorporated to propel the listener across the album’s tracks, but with this new inclusion Dr. Dog digs deeper into both pop culture and their own history.
Tracks like “Swampedelic Pop,” feature the ooh’s and aah’s backing vocals and dripping guitar melody of ’50s and ’60s artists like Buddy Holly, Bobby Vee, or Frankie Cannon, yet the track manages to evolve darker elements of the minor chord bridge and somewhat sinister lyrics. Another standout, “Engineer Says,’ reflects closer to the white boy blues of the late eighties, albeit there’s nothing dated about the track. “Badvertise” just screams Pixies influence, while the easy gate of “Good Greif,” hearkens one to ’70s country’s more experimental artists.
But Psychedelic Swamp isn’t just a reference to past musical loves, it also encourages their own past selves as a band. One look at the track listing and repetition becomes immediately apparent. A near half dozen tracks include, ‘Swamp,’ while a two run combo “Holes in my Back,” and “Fire on my Back,” all contain similar elements. Billed as a concept album, Psychedelic Swamp is the reinvention and re-imagining of songs that never made it on past records.
Unlike more recent projects, it seems Dr. Dog has mellowed with this recording. Rarely does the BMP break a sweat, but it isn’t necessarily to their detriment. Dr. Dog has long been adept at layering, laying seemingly desperate sounds together over and atop each other to create an onion-skin soundscape which reveals a little bit more with each rotation.
The concept for Psychedelic Swamp, whatever it may be, doesn’t exactly come off entirely. The good folks at Anti- are labelling it as a type of “rock opera.” But that’s a pretty tall drink of water and the work lacks a central narrative to really cement an over-arching theme. That being said, Dr. Dog has never disappointed, and fans of Americana will be just as interested in this oddity of a record as any of their past endeavors.