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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Dr. Dog Discover Better Rock Through Carpentry

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Were they a wine, Dr. Dog might be described as a rich, bountiful red. The rootsy undertones merge with ’60s psych and garage-pop while little baroque bloomlets dance across the palette, playing on subtle complexities in rhythm and melody that manifest in something as easily quaffed as sipped.

Though Dr. Dog’s early mid-00s vintages are quite pleasant, time has substantially deepened their textures and tonalities. If 2012’s Be the Void opened the door to a new level of sophistication and artistry, then last fall’s B-Room steps through the entry. The band’s recent flirtations with roots-soul find sweet fruition, while the flowering arrangements are enriched with frequent sonic cul-de-sacs and musical detours to surprise and intrigue even as the fetching melody lures you along.

The audience has responded as well. Clubs they’ve headlined for years are selling out and the Philadelphia six-piece seems to have joined New Pornographers and The National in that anomalous nether region of mainstream underground success.

“Now I can say in a really candid way that the only ceiling I sense in thinking about things we can do or would want to do—it’s just all self-imposed,” says singer/guitarist Scott McMicken. “I just believe that we can do anything we set our minds to. The question now is, ‘What are we going to commit our minds to?’ I feel we’re ready to try something completely different, even some sort of different format, like a concept record.”

The key to the band’s success is their close personal connection. McMicken and co-leader Toby Leaman first bonded on an eighth grade bus trip to Ellis Island and have been playing in bands together ever since. The rest are an accumulation of musicians who were big fans of the band, befriended them and later joined.

The guiding principle has been to make it fun and forget about the rest. Not that the band isn’t willing to work. To create B-Room they literally built themselves a studio in the middle of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse six miles outside downtown Philly that was once a silversmith mill.

The entire process was a team-building exercise as they built the studio in a huge empty room, and renovated the small surrounding rooms to create living spaces, a kitchen and bathrooms. Even those in the band who didn’t know the first thing about construction found ways to make themselves useful.

“That put the best mood on everybody and that’s what we went into recording with, that same sort of general roleplaying and usefulness, efficiency and work ethic,” McMicken says. “It was just a nice mental and collaborative framework that we had stumbled into out of the necessity of needing to build this studio before we could make music and was a kind of a hidden bonus.”

B-room takes its name from the austere workspace set aside for those not currently recording to work. It features little more than some drums and a 4-track recorder set on a wheeled instrument case, for ease. Yet like the subconscious, everything seemed to originate or end there, from individual song parts to Leaman’s vocals.

“Basically the B-room is what we have all had in our basement for the last 15 years,” he says. “The irony is that most of the record went on back there. It just seemed significant as a bridge to who we are now and what we started as. That’s a direct reflection of all our experiences and that’s informed how we record and our desire to be more live and intuitive about things.”

That mix of musical sophistication and a live, organic feel keys B-Room. Whether it’s the anthemic horn-laden “Rock & Roll,” the spooky soul-blues “Long Way Down,” or the harmony-laden Beach Boys-ish a capella “Mt. Slippery,” there’s an ineffable hominess—a kind of ramshackle charm that shines through the production giving it that human center.

“That’s been the thing we’re looking for, for sure,” he says. “I feel like our records do reflect that sort of growing aspiration in what we do and that whatever we do we will still be chasing down that breathing, living feel inside of the tunes.”

Dr. Dog headlines the Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, Feb. 5, with Saint Rich. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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