Sound: Dr. Dog's latest album, Fate, is an incredible ride through musical history, both past and present. While each song is a throw-back to another era, echoing the sounds of such greats as The Beatles, Cream, The Band, and more, Dr. Dog keep the album lively and ever-changing, breathing new life and excitement into each and every track. In order to truly and accurately represent the extent of the variety on the album, each track must be considered on it's own. Fate gets off to a strong start with The Breeze, which flows from a lo-fi, gritty acoustic intro to a more refined and elaborately produced song as the track progresses. This song seems to perfectly represent the evolution of Dr. Dog's sound from rough and raw as well symbolize the overall diversity of the entire album. Following The Breeze is one of the real gems of the album, Hang On, a soulful tune filled with bluesy piano, catchy guitar hooks, and a funky bass line. The parallels between this song and The Band are so evident that it would be hard not to think this was perhaps an unreleased track leftover from the '70s. Lyrically, this song is one of the strongest as well, but I will go more into that later. Arguably the catchiest track on the album, The Old Days is a folksy, up-tempo tune that sticks out for it's infectious piano playing. Soulful, rough singing is layered over the saloon-style piano playing, creating one of the most memorable Dr. Dog songs to date. Army of Ancients really stands out in that it is a nod towards an entirely different era and genre. While Hang On may bring to mind The Band, Army of Ancients, is a slow, mournful tune that recalls the aspects of the Big Band era as well as the legends of soul. Complete with both a brass and string section as well as pained, raw vocals (think James Brown), Army really marks an entirely new sound for Dr. Dog.
The Rabbit, The Bat, and the Reindeer is a relatively weak track in comparison to the rest of an extremely impressive album. One of the shortest tracks on the album (3:29), The Rabbit... sticks to a more upbeat, '70s pop sound with a catchy bass line but pales in comparison to the rest of Fate, as it fails to deliver the same emotions that are so prevalent in songs such as Army of Ancients. The Ark picks back up in quality where Army left off, drawing comparisons to Cream with rough, fuzzed out guitars and bluesy, funky bass. The Beatles are also brought to mind with the song's harmonies as well as an interlude that sounds eerily like I Want You. Dr. Dog slows things down with a light, relaxing touch in From, employing the same wonderfully composed 'Beatlesque' harmonies as The Ark. Really one of the softest tracks on the album, From really gives the listener a chance to really contemplate all that has been heard so far. Fate maintains a slower pace with 100 years as well but sustains a nice mix of a smooth bass line, electric organ, piano and layered vocals. Like the previous tune 100 Years, is one of the softer if not softest tracks on the album. The song marks the mellowest point for Fate. Uncovering the Old picks things back up nicely. Starting off with nothing but the sound of a ticking clock, the band continues to add new layers to the song -- from drums, bass and guitar all the way to brass and strings again. The track really helps reflect the overall variety the album has already displayed. The Beach serves as the far-and-away trippiest song on the album, again nodding towards the psychedelic bands of past. The song really sticks out for not just the strained, raw singing, the bluesy bass, highly distorted guitar, or electric organ, but rather for how well all pieces complement one another and come together to really create something memorable. Fate concludes in style with My Friend, pulling in elements from every other song -- from the warbling flute from The Breeze to the horns and violins found in Army Of Ancients; from harsh, distorted guitar to simple acoustic work. The song abruptly ends with the sounds of a train rumbling away, seemingly saying goodbye to the listener. // 9
Lyrics: While Dr. Dog's vocal duties are split between Scott McMicken (aka Taxi) and Toby Leaman (aka Tables), one characteristic holds true in every song, regardless- raw and emotional singing. While the group's sound in general has evolved and become more complex, regardless if the song is lo-fi or heavily produced and refined, soulful and at times pained vocals are the standard. Fate keeps to this sound, whether it is the mournful, moving screams from The Beach or the soulful singing of Hang On. The earnest, almost desperate singing lent credibly to each track.
The lyrics are equally as expressive as the vocals, largely focusing the relation between the past, present, and future, describing both what's to come and what has already occurred -- a theme that poignantly sums up their overall musical style. As we are told in The Old Days, Let go of the old ones / We've got some new ones / Hold on to the good stuff / Let go and get real tough. Another of the most lyrically meaningful tracks, 100 Years, mournfully describes the despair and disappointment that will be felt in looking back at today, while The Breeze speaks of holding on to the good times while they last. The most lyrically accomplished track (in my opinion) takes a different approach however. Replete with layered harmonies as well as the soulful lead vocals, Hang On explains how it's the little things that get in the way of happiness -- What you thought was a hurricane/ Was just the rustling of the wind / Why you think we need amazing grace / Just to tell it like it is? // 8
Overall Impression: With Fate, Dr. Dog has made one of the most impressive and interesting albums of the year. Retro styles, ragtime piano, heavily distorted guitars, string and brass sections, electric organs, and pained, emotional vocals all have been thrown together, creating one of the most unique and praiseworthy albums in years. Each song jolts the listener back to an entirely different era of music, echoing the greats of the past but never getting old or losing their own fresh appeal. What truly caught me off guard was the total variety offered on the album -- had the CD been a complete throwback to just one genre or band, no, it would not have struck me as anything special. But instead, Dr. Dog shines in the mastery of so many different sounds, pulling off every track convincingly. Each song just sounds like it belongs -- even if the song is perhaps weaker than the rest, I can't imagine the album without each and every song exactly where it is.
Fate has been appropriately described by the band itself as the album that they were destined to make. As Scott McMicken himself explains, it was apparent that something was going on, that these themes were just coming without our awareness of it. Then it became really exciting to say, wow, there's this aspect of fate that's governing this process as well as being the subject of it. In letting fate really take control and run wild, Dr. Dog have created a truly stunning album. // 9