There’s something a little strange about Be the Void on first listen and believe it or not, it doesn’t have to do with the fact that the artist involved goes by “God Rd.” when you spell their name backwards. No, the amount of pep in Dr. Dog’s step is a little off. And when they do decide to go that route, it’s like a diabetic sugar rush, right? What the fuck is Toby Leaman trying to do here? Who the fuck is Toby Leaman? Those are all perfectly reasonable assessments — on first listen.
After all, the more accessible tracks here seem like retreads of ghost’s past, and inferior ones at that. The admittedly catchy, though disjointed pinwheel of colors that is “That Old Black Hole” is what Eli once was to the Peyton of “The Rabbit, the Bat & The Reindeer,” while “Vampire” and its psychedelic guitar riff stands awkwardly next to its sonic cousin, “The Ark.”
Be the Void runs nearly ten minutes longer than 2010′s Shame, Shame and the band’s A.D.D. tendencies are more than apparent. Whether it’s the inclusion of the vapid “Over Here, Over There” merely for its “Little Red Corvette” stylings or the excessive ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ during the final minute of lead guitarist Scott McMicken’s otherwise beautiful and bouncy “Do the Trick,” Be the Void could certainly come a little leaner.
Nowhere does this seem more evident than on bassist Toby Leaman’s “Big Girl,” a five-minute parlay into pop grandiosity mashing elements of “My Sharona” and Hall and Oates’ classic “Rich Girl.” Bloated and redundant, it would have worked better clocking in at 3:30. But despite missing the mark, it’s not a total exercise in futility; It showcases Dr. Dog’s willingness to experiment and challenge themselves creatively.
And that folks, is what saves this album.
The fast pace of the modulated electric guitar on “These Days” positively echoes Passion Pit or Starfucker, while“Heavy Light” delves into Animal Collective territory. The album closer, “Turning the Century,” is a celebration in folk form. McMicken’s warm vocals and the accompanying harmonies mark the band’s closest encounter to-date with a Crosby-Stills / Fleet Foxes type of sound. These songs offer the listener a pastiche of sounds that are different, yet familiar, and remain Be the Void’s best hope to grow the band’s fan base.
Dr. Dog signaled that the record would mark a return of sorts to the band’s early days as “fearless weirdos” and they don’t disappoint, even if it takes a few listens to appreciate the bluegrass howls and hand claps of“Lonesome.” Elsewhere, the slide guitar of “How Long Must I Wait” basks in lo-fi glory alongside McMicken’s heartfelt lyrics (I sang your praise like an old songbird / But I don’t suppose you… heard).
However small, Be the Void is another step forward for the blue-collar band out of West Philly. With patience, there’s enough material here to temporarily satisfy the most insatiable of Pavlovian reflexes.