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Review: Dr. Dog, 'The Psychedelic Swamp'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

<em>The Psychedelic Swamp</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
The Psychedelic Swamp

It's no surprise that a band called Dr. Dog might tend toward loopy, loping outsider rock with a slightly goofy streak. If there were any doubt, it's quickly dispelled by The Psychedelic Swamp, a concept album that wanders and sprawls to absorbing effect. The songs on Dr. Dog's ninth record predate the band itself: They're sourced from a tape with formative songs written together by Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman before they'd adopted the Dr. Dog mantle. ("A half-baked idea back in 2001, it has been reborn in 2016, fully baked," the press release promises.)

The story of a psychedelic netherworld unfurls as much as a narrative-minded listener might want, but the songs also thrive, comfortably and casually, on their own. "Golden Hind" opens with a gentle swirl of acoustic and electric guitar and some deep-voiced mewling, with a mix of olden-days beatitude and menace that would play well in a David Lynch film. "Dead Record Player" steps up in a sort of glam-rock strut, with riffs reeling around spacious drums and a store of sassy T. Rex moves. The character in the song seems to be dead, tripping, or at least in a strange enough state that "when I listen to my records, no matter what they are, they sound real good but real weird."

The sound swells and expands from there, with keyboards streaking "Psychedelic Pop" and a snippy, snappy synth beat beneath "Bring My Baby Back." A fondness for swoops and swerves (plus occasional interludes and bursts of bizarre noise) make parts of the album sound carnival-like in the manner of the latter-day psych-rock advocate Of Montreal, while solid song structures otherwise put Dr. Dog in league with The Shins or Spoon. Add a loose sort of jam-band disposition (especially in supple bass lines that wiggle and run throughout), and enough idiosyncrasy abounds to make The Psychedelic Swamp more than worth a ramble.

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Andy Battaglia