Plenty of bands have crossed the void, witnessed the void, or feared the void -- but Dr. Dog is the first one to embrace and unify with it. There's always been a tight bond with sadness in the Philly band's songs, but in the warm way that perhaps only the Grateful Dead have lyrically produced before. Here on Be the Void though, we find the dueling songwriters of Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken unified in a transcendent tale of existential passage like something from a Tool record, but minus the sensation that snakes are trying to crawl out of your eyeballs. Reverting back from the polished tones of their last album, Void finds the band nestling once again in the gritty roots of rock, and modestly asserting their foothold as the torch-bearers of the nameless soul we sometimes call rock and roll.
Starting with "Lonesome," it's like opening your eyes to a back porch on a late summer night with a handle of whiskey nearly dry, and you're singing a song with your best friends that makes your heart feel that good kind of funny. This is escape music, and this is the music of old souls. Leaman is recrafting the blues in his own image here -- holding it like an old friend's shoulder and personifying his emotions into characters he doesn't want to be without. This sensation continues throughout, especially on the soul rocker "Vampire" where the band sounds like The Rolling Stones covering The Beatles; like fire and pop having sex on the kitchen counter.
McMicken is in his usual form of the jaded optimist, and once again using that form to write songs that are beyond therapeutic for like-minded lost folks in their early 30s. "That Old Black Hole" has a more linear structure to it than tunes of his past and in that way it initially comes off as cluttered. The 2nd time around though, its turns feel instinctual and it becomes instantly engrained in you cerebral Scotty catalogue. "Do the Trick" finds him at the top of his game in terms of re-delegating how you come to understand a common phrase, and this tune made me realize what a truly great American band this is. There's no way to fully translate the connotations of "do the trick," and thus these aren't universal ideas he's referring to. These are concepts of the Western tongue, and these tunes are thus equally as important a part of our current musical lexicon as Tin Pan Alley was at the turn of the century.
All these songs are entities unto themselves; all breathing and pulsing and living in a corner of reality where voids and emotions and melodies walk the streets. "How Long Must I Wait" is the slankiest tune these cats have ever dropped, with a spacey guitar lick stripped directly from the void itself. "Warrior Man" is Toby's finest hour -- an epic 70's rocker that sounds like T-Rex doing Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" or something Bowie would have written if he ever wore muddy boots. Honestly though, this album plays like a Tom Robbins novel -- fun and loose on the outside, but somewhere in the middle lies the existential search for one's personal dogma. You can do just fine thinking about how great Eric Slick sounds on the drums, or you can question your own physical existence -- a little something for everybody.