“Something that we’ve been trying to hone in on in Dr. Dog for a really long time is how to record musicians, not just parts,” co-frontman Scott McMicken told me earlier this year, describing the evolution of his workaholic band’s psychedelic jams, rife with nods to the Beatles and the Band but trying to grow beyond them. Bad news, maybe, for fans drawn to the lo-fi thunderclap drums and tape-hiss vocals favored by the Dog leading up to and including 2005’s Easy Beat, but a boon for the audiophiles pining for even more of the sumptuous harmonies and textures of last year’s We All Belong. Now, each ominous organ line, jangling guitar, and bowed-bass hum rings in your ears just as it would in the studio at the moment it was created.
Fate is equally taut thematically. Opening brightly with “The Breeze,” McMicken introduces the work the way an Elizabethan chorus might, with audience instructions in couplets: “Do you feel like you’re stuck in time/Forever waiting on that line/If nothing ever moves/Put that needle to the groove/And sing.” Each fate-themed parable unfolds with McMicken and bassist Toby Leaman taking turns singing, either narrating from above or testifying from the front lines. Slowly, the tone darkens: During “100 Years,” Leaman candidly imagines cutting his water with Rebel Yell in the afterlife, and by the Tom Waits–y dirge “The Beach,” he’s wailing like a man at the end of his rope: “Fate has a funny way of coming ’round.” After the song scuttles to a close, the clouds part with the glistening guitar licks of “My Friend.” For the triumphant two-part finale, Dr. Dog duplicate another Fab Four trick, reprising lyrical and musical themes from the earlier songs. Highlights of Fate coming back ’round one last time give satisfying closure, but also tease what’s coming when it’s inevitably cued up again.
Dr. Dog play the Bowery Ballroom July 23 and the Music Hall of Williamsburg July 24