Album Review: Camping – The Dogs
The Dogs are a young band, their membership barely old enough to buy drinks without fake ID’s. This youthful spirit is apparent, for better and worse, on their 2011 release Camping, available as a “pay what you wish” download through BandCamp. They are students of the game, adept at crafting melodies that hook you, infectious with that unbridled energy. At the same time Camping follows a formula familiar to any fan of Indie Pop music: high-energy backbeat romps, down-tempo interludes, and a barrel full of catchy countermelodies. The central shortcoming, then, is not that they write bad songs, but that they fail to challenge the listener. The record flattens out quickly.
I still liked Camping. It’s really hard not to – these kids know how to craft a catchy tune. They’re charmers bent on pleasing the listener. What surprised me was how adept at arrangement The Dogs are. Despite claims that this record was largely a product of home recordings (really, what does that mean anymore? Sufjan Stevens recorded Greetings From Michigan at home with two 57’s), they are able to achieve a very organic sound. They employ soft and crisp synth layers for atmosphere, flourishes of strings and brass, and a cunning vibraphone to support their foundation of warm acoustic strums and fuzzed-out guitars.
Camping sounds like a well-written book report on Indie Pop. They’ve taken classes on bands like the Arcade Fire, Phoenix, and Peter Bjorn & John, and could well be majoring in Elephant Six Studies with a minor in British Emotive Indie Rock (under the tutelage of esteemed professors Elbow and Manic Street Preachers). They’ve also done some coursework in more obscure fields like The Microphones-ology, evident in songs such as “Know I’m Missing You,” and “On the Highway.”
The Dogs have hit the books and produce pretty good work that is informed by their predecessors and contemporaries, so there aren’t many low points on Camping, but it does quickly reach a plateau. The record’s best track, “Dance More,” is an absolute foot-stomping joyride, founded on the energy of huge-sounding acoustic guitars, that E6-inspired fuzzbox, and the frantic control of lead vocalist Peter Walters’ singing. The song fires on all cylinders. After this point, however, the formula starts to clarify and it feels a little too familiar; slower, melancholic songs like “All Is Forgiven,” and “All We Have,” break up the record in terms of tempo, but connote so many familiar moments on similar records that it doesn’t really feel that fresh.
So what does one learn when listening to Camping? That there’s a difference between learned songwriting and car commercial Indie Pop, and the Dogs err on the side of the former; it’s definitely a feather in their proverbial cap, as easy as it is to churn out meaningless, saccharine tunes in this environment of instant publishing. While this record does tend toward the obvious and only has one true standout track, the foundational melodies are so strong it doesn’t matter. This record is too charming, too warm, too fun to dislike. Without a doubt, Camping will look great on The Dogs’ transcript.