For a band which generally produces delicate songs touching on love, broken hearts, and loneliness, Dr. Dog has a murky past shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
The most disturbingly comprehensive depository of their early years is a fan creation: swamp truth.com. Replicating the prehistoric feel of the internet at the turn of the millennium, it's bombarded with paranoid messages from a dedicated following of conspiracy theorists who busily scour the internet for any scrap of information concerning the band's upcoming album.
These are the borderline worshippers of a concept album that proves hugely difficult to track down, The Psychedelic Swamp. Originally a limited, cassette-only release back in 2001, the album was a sprawling mess comprised of dissonant blasts of static, radio chatter, and the occasional perfectly formed jewel of lo-fi pop that would go on to form the mainstay of the band's sound. The album became a white whale of sorts; nigh on impossible to obtain other than in the sordid depths of the internet, where bootlegs of the original cassette were secretly preserved, as if in hibernation.
An interview with singer Scott McMicken revealed the extent of their mythos; the band members allegedly discovered a tape in the mail, having been created by a world-weary man named Phrases who escaped the grey monotony of Earth and ascended to a fantastical higher plane, the Psychedelic Swamp. Eventually realising that the psychedelic grass was not in fact greener on the other side, he chose Dr. Dog to translate his music into American pop to spread his mistakes to the masses. If that whole concept leaves your brain feeling slightly fried, you're not alone.
Now at last, in 2016, the band have announced their desire to revisit the murks of Psychedelic Swamp. Their long awaited pop reinterpretation of the lost album, is landing on February the 5th, and judging from the singles which have bubbled up from the metaphorical sludge, it's an altogether different beast.
The band's sound has evolved over their decade-spanning career since the original release, and has grown to encompass all areas of lo-fi psych, folk and alt-rock. This latest single, Bring My Baby Back, is the perfect distillation of their sound, a neatly wrapped package that unfolds with washed out oohs, laid back drumming, and hooks galore. The masters of the old fashioned pop song have ticked all the boxes once again; most notably in their decision not to complicate the song with complex chord progressions or rhythms. Instead they've channelled their inner Beatles, and opened with beautifully simple acoustic guitar, opposite a subdued piano. Transient snippets of children's laughter and the pulsation of a shrill synth line jar with the sparse feel of the song, flavouring it with a dash of the abstract.
Peeling away the layers of upbeat instrumentation reveals lyrics that are as enigmatic as ever. Honest enough to reflect a painful betrayal, yet ambiguous enough to leave you overall none the wiser, they paint images of Judas, repentance, and solitude. The sorrowful mantra repeated throughout, "Simple plea, make them pay and make them bring my baby back to me", is a desperate yearning for the past, fully aware of the futility of hindsight.
Ultimately, the entire Swamp project will leave the listener with more unanswered questions than before. Is this the magnum opus of a creative genius, or simply the elaborate cover-up of a psychoactively enhanced recording session gone wrong? Like space-and-time traveller Phrases before us, the thrill of being swept away in the fantasy is far too alluring.
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