Some artists seem to go out of their way to defy description. Neil Young, David Byrne and the late David Bowie are all of that ilk, artists who make it a practice to keep their fans and admirers guessing as to what expect to next.
Granted, Dr. Dog aren’t in that rarified strata, but in their own way they’ve gone about their career in much the same way. Their penchant for creative cacophony provides them with a distinctive kind of jam-band sensibility and a knack for attracting followers that are drawn to their populism. One could call them indie insurgents, but in truth an exact description is hard to nail down.
With that in mind, The Psychedelic Swamp may have helped provide some insight. Well, it could have anyway, but in truth it kind of muddies the perspective even more. To be clear, this isn’t a new album at all, but instead a re-release of their first outing that was issued independently prior to their signing with Anti- Records. In a sense it’s a covers collection with one major caveat: the songs they cover happen to be their own.
Given the fact that the band weren’t very well known when The Psychedelic Swamp first appeared, there will be those who will treat it as something wholly brand new, which is probably just as well considering that it had limited distribution. Nevertheless, with its erratic melodies and sprawling designs, it reflects a band that was still searching for its direction. Much like Pavement and Guided By Voices, Dr. Dog were lo-fi in both form and philosophy, an elusive MO that thwarted any attempt to make a definitive statement. They’ve made some inroads with the mainstream media in recent years, but based on a current listen to this initial effort it’s clear that intent was still far from their minds.
That makes The Psychedelic Swamp somewhat baffling, especially for those who might view it as a belated introduction. Songs such as “Golden Hind,” “Swampadelic Pop,” “Holes In My Back,” “Swamp Descent” and “Engineer Says” sound so seemingly out of focus, the melodies come across as muddled. The surprisingly spirited “Fire On My Back” and the downcast “Bring My Baby Back” are the obvious standouts, but even those tracks aren’t enough to coax the setlist out its murky malaise. Dedicated fans will probably delight in rediscovery, but those who are basically unaware won’t feel they know Dr. Dog any better.
Ultimately, this new take on The Psychedelic Swamp mainly serves as a means of sharing Dr. Dog’s backstory and really nothing more.