Expectations change as you get older. So while the Philadelphia quintet Dr. Dog may have made a modest move up the label rungs from Park the Van to Epitaph imprint Anti-, they've probably shed any illusions of broad-based success now that they're six albums into their recording career. Their tuneful blend of staple indie pop influences — ringing Beatles melodies, soaring Beach Boys harmonies, rootsy soul a la the Band, and shambling, gilded psych-pop reminiscent of Love — has afforded them a cult appeal that they've rewarded with consistently well-crafted albums. Shame, Shame is perhaps livelier and a bit less produced than 2008's Fate, but in large part, their approach remains the same. The album tenor has changed, however, marking this as their most mature effort to date as far as subject matter. It's also certainly their strongest thematically.
The passage of time is a thread that runs through the entire album. It's even evident from the title of the tracks, including "Later," "Someday," "Where'd All the Time Go?" and "Mirror, Mirror," the latter with its complaint of "Things aren't what they used to be." "I Only Wear Blue," meanwhile, admonishes: "Let's get on with it, we haven't got too much time, and I don't want to stay here." Along with that spirit of carpe diem is a theme of lingering worry about identity — from a mirror that bears no reflection to the slow fade of the "Shadow People." And co-frontman Toby Leaman laments about the "Stranger" he's become even to himself in the song that bears that very title.
The ongoing motifs lend a ballast and focus to the album in an arc that leads inevitably to closing number, "Shame, Shame," in which Leaman confesses regret at the overwrought rumination and self-conscious drama of his youth, before embracing the moment in a rousing, soulful rave-up that caps the album with a flourish. They may have settled in, and accepted who they are as a band, but they've never expressed it this well or thoughtfully before.
Dr. Dog plays Thursday, April 15, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555. With Sean Bones
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.