There’s a self-directed voyeuristic gaze in “Listening In,” as if in some psilocybin-altered state, we’re both present and set apart, eavesdropping on our own conversation. There are animal dreams, the buzz of a neon diner sign, the shadows that follow us: “I can hear electric lights talking, but they ain’t talking to me, are they talking to you? … I can hear the fear in me talking, and it’s talking about me, and it’s talking about you.” The opening track of Critical Equation, the latest offering from psych-rock’s Dr. Dog, is a minor-key meditation on the journey through doubt and alienation. The shimmer of keys and synths from Zach Miller add a sense of unease, built on the backbone of Eric Slick’s quietly insistent kick-snare. Scott McMicken slows down in the refrain, as if weighed down by the confession — I’m on fire, I’m under attack, and it’s been a long, lonely winter. Is the threat that McMicken alludes to another person or one’s self? It’s an ambiguity that invites you to linger.
Dr. Dog has long played with the productive tension between the lyrical content of songs–touching on subjects like isolation and anxiety–and the dreamy, sometimes upbeat nature of the music itself. Take “Casual Freefall,” for instance, a song off 2017’s Abandoned Mansion and with which Dr. Dog kicked off night two of their three-night residency at Brooklyn Steel. The refrain of I’m what I am instead of whatever I’m not is a line that seems both defiant and melancholy, and the words drift above a gentle, pretty, lo-fi production.
From there, we moved into the ebullient “True Love,” Toby Leaman’s lyrical meditation on the thorny nature of love, with references to armageddon and crashing thunder, offset by the brightness of the keys and sprightly drumwork. Dr. Dog’s deftness with various sonic reference points was on full display, from their audience clapalong cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races,” to the gauzy texture of Hammond organ lending a dream-like texture to songs like “Coming Out of the Darkness” and ” Buzzing in the Light.” In the latter, Leaman reflects, seems to me I’m watching someone else’s dream. It certainly feels that way at a Dr. Dog show, with the band in the cross-beams of stage light, weaving a seamless sonic web that had us caught up through the last note of the encore.
Article: Vivian Wang