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There’s always been an off-kilter joy in Dr. Dog’s music, but on the Philadelphia quintet’s first album for the eclectic ANTI- Records, there’s also an impressive crispness that only enhances the endlessly catchy songs.

Dr. Dog enlisted an outside producer (Rob Schnapf, who has also worked with Beck and Elliott Smith) and recorded in an actual studio for the first time. The band emerged with all of its idiosyncratic charm intact, but also with a taut, live-sounding record that takes advantage of the savvy interplay between acoustic and electric guitars, piano, organ and the thrilling vocal harmonies. Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman have precisely the right instincts for filling out each other’s songs.

Like Wilco’s Summerteeth, Shame, Shame capitalizes on the pairing of sunny pop music and a darker lyrical tone. Nowhere is that dynamic clearer or better-executed than on “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” when McMicken sings, “We’re all in it together now as we all fall apart, we’re swapping little pieces of our broken little hearts” in an upbeat, sing-along chorus.

“Where’d All the Time Go?” could be a (take your pick) Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds outtake with a banjo, but Beatles and Beach Boys comparisons only count for a little on Dr. Dog’s fifth album, and that’s a testament to the band’s development.

Shame, Shame is the sound of a band that’s grown into itself, and the excitement that lingers is the result of not knowing whether this is Dr. Dog’s masterpiece or the first in a string of excellent albums.

Published April 22, 2010 in the Tucson Weekly.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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