Underrated: Spotlight On Dr. Dog


Conor Toland, Music Critic

Dr. Dog, despite the name, consists of neither dogs nor doctors. It is in fact a Philadelphia-based indie rock band formed in 1999. Their members are Scott McMicken (vocals/guitar), Toby Leaman (vocals/bass), Zach Miller (keyboards/guitar), Frank McElroy (guitar), and Eric Slick (drums). They draw influence from The Beatles and The Beach Boys in their harmonies, with hints of Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

The band has released 9 albums in the 18 years of their career. The band’s early recordings are often lo-fi, with their first album, Toothbrush (released in 2002), being recorded on eight track tapes. Lo-fi refers to low fidelity, meaning the recording quality is of a lower caliber or production. Despite the shoddy recordings on their first couple albums, Dr. Dog still delivered with excellent music and has greatly improved their sound quality since. Their most recent album, Abandoned Mansion, features a clean, high production sound.

Musically, Dr. Dog presents a diverse range of sounds, while primarily sticking to the 60s pop sound intermixed with bluegrass-inspired three-part harmonies. They have also dabbled in folk, psychedelic, baroque pop, and more. Despite these influences, they still manage to maintain a fresh and novel sound. Here are their top 5 songs:

  1. Heart It Races – (We All Belong)

Funnily enough, “Heart It Races” isn’t written by Dr. Dog. It originally by the band Architecture in Helsinki. The original version is very different; it has a Caribbean beat and whiny vocals. Honestly, it kind of stinks in comparison to the Dr. Dog version, perhaps because I find the steel drum, which is heavily present in the original, to be completely insufferable. Meanwhile, the Dr. Dog version is touching and masterfully layered. The backing vocals are light and playful. The guitar riffs are bright and sharp. It’s upbeat and worth a listen.

  1. Shadow People (Shame, Shame)

“Shadow People” is a song about growing up in Philadelphia and losing innocence. “Where did all the shadow people go?” asks singer Scott McMicken as the layers of instrumentals elevate the song to a whole new level. It’s a song that sets the scene for driving around late at night and pondering the mysteries of life, by yourself, or with your closest friends. It’s deceptively simple but produced to perfection. It’s a touching song that will leave you wondering where all the shadow people went.

  1. We All Belong – (We All Belong)

This song is simultaneously cliche and completely original. It’s one of their earlier tracks. This is one of the songs that shows that Dr. Dog is an exceptionally talented band harmonically; the chorus is thickly layered with vocals, the guitar solo is a masterclass in multitracking, and the grand bridge is fed by a powerful orchestration. It’s a song about connecting to the world and it manages to establish that connection sonically. Overall an absolutely marvellous song.

  1. Where’d All The Time Go? – (Shame, Shame)

This song hits hard with most people who have lived at all. There’s never enough time. Friendships die. This song is another example of how the members of Dr. Dog are so effective at presenting a feeling musically. It makes me sad and nostalgic. It’s so powerful, featuring a soft synth loop that sounds like travelling backwards through time, as well as a travelling bassline. The lead guitar could not fit the song more perfectly, finishing with a blistering guitar solo pushing it to an emotional climax.

  1. The Breeze – (Fate)

“The Breeze” is perfect in so many ways. It’s fairly one of their earlier songs, off of 2008’s Fate, which is often regarded by fans as Dr. Dog’s best. The backing vocals are perhaps one of the greatest in any song I have ever heard. It’s inventive melodically and also executed with precision. They elevate the song more than words can express. The song is so pleasing to listen to, and it fittingly manages to blow me away more than any other song by the band.