2 May 2016
Dr. Dog - The Psychedelic Swamp
Reviewed by Maggie Danna
"Psychedelic Swamp" is both Dr. Dog’s oldest and newest album. In 2001, before bringing the band Dr. Dog into existence, friends Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken first wrote an album titled "Psychedelic Swamp". The original "Psychedelic Swamp", which can be heard on YouTube, was recorded in a basement and is a lot more lo fi and grungy. It’s also much bleaker and more spacious than its remake. While the original is rather sloppy, the impressive song structure and writing skills were still there 15 years ago. Now the band has revisited these tracks and made them shiny and fresh.
A concept album of sorts, "Psychedelic Swamp" is narrated by a man who starts his life over again in a new world, the psychedelic swamp, only to find it is not all he initially hoped it to be. This may also be a metaphor for a psychedelic trip; the album touches upon key features including awe, societal revelations, and paranoia. Being a swamp, the narrator and listeners become increasingly stuck in the muck of this world as the album progresses. At first everything is absolutely incredible, but eventually the narrator realizes it is not all he made it out to be; it’s like believing you’ve arrived in the Garden of Eden only to discover it’s just a distorted version of your backyard after a heavy rainfall.
The album is very pop throughout but in varying degrees. “Golden Hind”, which kicks off the album, has a bit of folk or even country twang. “Engineer Says” adds a tinge of funk. “In Love”” is a dream pop ballad, and the finale “Swamp is On” is more spaced out and electronic. Dealing with love and relationships, as well as identity, the album has serious moments but does not take itself too seriously.
“Dead Record Player” has a joyous and laid-back melody, and strong glam tendencies, despite the fact that the record player in question “sings sad songs about the dead” and the narrator notes “All my old records used to not want me dead/Now they do”. Though ominous, the narrator is clearly digging his new situation and declares, “The music is killing me/The high and low fidelities/ Are attacking my brain/And it's terrific”.
However, by “Swamp Inflammation”, approaching the album’s close, the narrator has had enough and grumbles that “swamp living is killing me”. On top of that, he has heard “too much information on the psychedelic news”. “Swamp Inflammation” transitions into “Badvertise”, a mild garage rock jam ridiculing classic advertising tropes, which also has a humorous music video that pokes fun at infomercials.
"Psychedelic Swamp" is an extremely enjoyable and well-crafted album. It's classic Dr. Dog, as this is a band known for its great melodies and fun quirks. Highlights include “Golden Hind”, “Dead Record Player”, “Bring My Baby Back”, and “Badvertise”. "Psychedelic Swamp" is a great album if you’re looking for fun, creative pop.
Vinyl, CD and digital available here (UK/EU) and here (US).
The whole album streams here: