On Nov. 29, Dr. Dog unexpectedly dropped their ninth studio album, Abandoned Mansion. With their most popular album having barely cracked the top 50, the Philadelphia-area indie rock band doesn’t have the same popularity as artists like Kendrick Lamar, who could drop untitled unmastered. without batting an eye. So when Dr. Dog released Abandoned Mansion without warning, one could only assume that there was something that made it special. In a way it is unique, but only in that there is nothing special about the album at all.
The band describes the album as, “Easy Peasy listening … no blips or bloops or anything else that might unsettle you.” This statement perfectly points out the album’s strengths and weaknesses.
Dr. Dog set out to make an album of background music, and in that goal they succeeded. Abandoned Mansion sounds great when you aren’t paying attention to it. Songs blend together seamlessly, making the album feel like a peaceful, 50-minute stream of music.
Musically the band achieves this easy listening vibe by abandoning their psychedelic influences and embracing their americana ones. The heavy use of acoustic guitar, combined with more singular effects like the harmonica in the beginning of “Jim Song” or the string quartet in “I Saw Her for the First Time,” creates a grounded consistency throughout the album.
Unfortunately, Dr. Dog disappoint with this approach because their aberrations from plain and straightforward music are nearly always excellent. Without the psychedelic guitar riffs and syncopated bass lines that heavily populated previous albums, Abandon Mansion feels like it’s missing something. From a band that has had so much success with experimentation, the album is an odd foray into the vanilla. Dr. Dog thrives off of their “blips and bloops,” so it doesn’t make much sense to remove them.
For what it was meant to be, the album is perfectly fine, and arguably pretty good. If you are looking for music to study to or to play in the background during a dinner party, Abandoned Mansion gets the job done. But if you try to listen to and enjoy the album, it lacks substance. There isn’t a bad song on the album, but there isn’t a good one either. Dr. Dog have the ability to do far more musically, and it feels like they’ve let themselves down. Hopefully if the band drops an album again, it will actually have something special.