‘B-Room' is not perfect, but is still worth a listen

by Kyle McGoey | 10/13/13 10:00pm

The way I see it, there are singles bands and there are album bands. A singles band has a few great songs, and may even put out solid albums, but there are always two or three songs that clearly stand above the rest.One wonders, record label pressures and fan expectations aside, if they would even bother putting out albums at all. An album band, on the other hand, might make great music, but they're not the first band you go to when you're making that sweet new playlist.

For one reason or another, its music just sounds right in the album format; the band's songs come together to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Dr. Dog has always been a singles band for me. I've loved certain songs, but I've never felt the urge to sit down and listen to a Dr. Dog album.

But with "B-Room," the seventh album from the indie rock workhorses, the group has definitely switched camps.

There are no obvious singles and no radio hits. In fact, if you don't take the initiative and seek it out, you might never hear a single one of its tracks. And you'd be missing out, because "B-Room" is a breezy, well-crafted album, full of intriguing psych-pop jams and perfect for easing the post-Homecoming comedown.

It's fitting that "B-Room" is named for the band's new studio, because the album's production represents Dr. Dog's biggest leap. The warm, immersive sound of songs like "Broken Heart" and "Cuckoo" has replaced the tossed-off lo-fi of their early work, and it fits the album's psyched-out vibe perfectly.

The lush echo of "The Truth" adds body to the song's bare-bones instrumentation, and the spacious feel of "Nellie" allows Toby Leaman's sing-along vocal to stand out.

I know I said there were no obvious singles, but "B-Room" certainly has its share of standout songs.

"Broken Heart" is an infectious jam, its shuffling rhythm and call-and-response vocals propelling the song forward as Leaman's rubbery bass line anchors the bottom end. Scott McMicken's lead guitar starts honey-sweet, but he ramps up the fuzz for a satisfying solo.

"Distant Light" is a psychedelic journey down "the infinite road that unwinds from within," propelled by jaunty barroom piano and a spaced-out guitar chug. The song doesn't fully deliver on the mind-bending voyage its lyrics promise, but the fun, psych-tastic lyrics are more than enough to keep you engaged.

"Phenomenon" is a true country ballad, all banjo, fiddle and acoustic guitar. "You're always leaving, but you're never gone," McMicken sings in one of the album's most memorable choruses. The song's message isn't entirely clear, but it makes for one hell of a sing-along.

The knotty, winding pulse of "Cuckoo" shows the band's talent, and the George Harrison-esque guitar tone betrays one of its key influences.

If I had to pick a Beatles album as a comparison (though the very idea feels sacrilegious), I'd say "B-Room" best resembles "Magical Mystery Tour" spacey and sonically diverse, a little strange, but packed with hidden gems.

Every album needs a good love song, and "Nellie" fills that role perfectly here. It's simple, sweet and infectious, and Leaman's voice really shines when he throttles back and goes for the ballad vibe. After having spent most of the album wandering around inside a cosmic headspace, it's funny to see him bewildered by a girl even more psyched-out than him: "Does she wander, deep inside her slumber, from dream to dream?"

After a second half that tends to drag, it closes "B-Room" on a perfect note.

I've heaped a lot of praise on Dr. Dog so far, but "B-Room" definitely isn't a perfect album. The back half loses a good bit of steam; "Twilight" in particular tries far too hard to achieve some ideal of boho weirdness but flops horribly.

"Minding the Usher" starts on a promising note, with the same flickering candle ambiance I loved in the Arctic Monkeys' "One for the Road," but it never really picks up momentum.

It's only three minutes long, but, as McMicken ironically sings in the chorus, "It goes on and on and on."

Flaws aside, however, "B-Room" is an impressive effort from a band that, after years of flying under the radar, seems to be hitting its stride. It may not be the next Beatles, or even the next Tame Impala, but Dr. Dog is here to stay.