Norway - Full Moon 232 - 07/31/15
Voices of Wonder
The saying goes that Dog Age only releases new albums in the years when Arsenal wins Premier League. I checked and after Dog Age got started in the second half of the 1980s Arsenal has won in the title in the 1988-89 season (Dog Age celebrated with the release of the debut album Good Day!, 1990-91 (Sigh No More), 1997-98 (As It Were), 2001-2002 (When The Fish Are Down) and 2003-2004 (well, Reefy Seadragon was delayed several times and didn't show up until 2006). But what about On The Garish Isles (2011) and the brand new one released this very moonth? Well, Arsenal was only one point behind Manchester United by February 2011, but ended up no. 4 and 12 points behind at the end of the season. The team reached the final of the League Cup, but lost 1-2 to Birmingham City after a late second goal for Birmingham. What a blow! There was no success towards the final rounds of Champions League or the FA Cup either. So, I guess to launch On The Garish Isles early that year, probably before the League Cup final, was way too optimistic. This year fared better. No. 3 in Premier League was maybe not up to par, at least if you ask the Arsenal supporters of Dog Age, but winning the FA Cup for the second time in a row can certainly justify the release of Swanlake Gate this summer.
When On The Garish Isles was released about four years and four full moonths ago, the band members assured us that the next album was going to be a folk-rock and power ballad album called Like Some Bacon In The Night. Well, they didn't manage to live up to that kind of expectations this time either. The Bacon album has been postponed, it will be the next album in line, the Dog Age gang firmly assures us. Believe it if you can. Instead Swanlake Gate includes some old and some new, and also something borrowed. Not unlike most of the other Dog Age albums. The album opens with "Opening Up The Park" and the good familiar Dog Age feeling is instantly there, arch-British and arch-Dog Age'ish pop-psychedelia with a fascinating new sound of one of the electric guitars towards the end. There are many guitars around, but also space for cello and keyboards including organ and a distinguished Mellotron. Very nice, indeed! Parts of "Scathing" belongs to the same category with guitars and guitars all over the place. Other parts sound closer to a bit jazzy George Harrison around "Taxman" of Revolver if that's imaginable. The Beatle era George Harrison inspiration, now concerned with his fascination for Indian music, also goes for "Phone Poles". It's a more blurred song with distorted vocals, a raga rock'ish vibe due to the drone feel of the quite hard-edged electric guitars, even a tablas break and some Eastern tinged strings. Not quite unlike Dog Age's treatment of Georges 1967-offering "Blue Jay Way" on Reefy Seadragon. "Sitting Here" also includes sides of Dog Age we've learned to love over the years combined with new elements. That strange mixture of spooky progressive sort of electric guitar combined with a cosy-quirky Mellotron, happy la-la's and reflective lyrics. At night waiting for the morn, and then when morn comes, waiting for the moonless night. And of course, nights without the moon can be scary! The folk-pop tinged pleasantries are represented by "How You Are" and "Wasps". Signs of an acoustic guitar or two among the electric ones and a bit steel and country flavoured guitar in the former, whereas the latter includes several acoustic and maybe a mandolin, too, before it all goes astray towards the end. As with the previous couple of albums the superb cover was created by Mick Dillingham.
The new and borrowed is first and foremost represented by "Happy Fowl Stomp", a funny and hilarious wordless song with jazz overtones and high-pitched wordless and yodelling, not quite unlike what Lars Hollmer and his merry comrades of Samla Mammas Manna was up to in the 1970s. It's even got something close to a jazzy sax solo! Newcomer, guitar player and producer Eystein Hopland, who joined the band gradual over several years after having "only" been involved on the production side since 1998, has delivered his first offering as a full band member with "Sonatine". It's not that distinguishable at first listen, with elements in several directions. After a careful start it evolves into beautiful and pleasant dreamy psychedelia with great effect-laden guitar. Then flows on into Indian flavoured territory (again) with a bit sitar and tablas before the volume of the guitars are turned up and completely take charge. Won-won-wonderful! "Maureen" is the hardest rocking one of the album, electric guitar rock in a Zappaesque way. And it seems the grinding cello of semi-attached member Tov Ramstad (also the album's engineer) is involved here, too. Towards the end a choir is turned backwards. It really works, in a fascinating way, not only as an effect, but as an integrated part of the song.
And then there is the title track, one of the most fascinating of them all. Quirky folk-pop-psychedelia, this time with summer feelings in the park early in the morning. Birds singing, insects flying, acoustic guitars and nice keyboards sounding like flute Mellotron, harpsichord and strings. Or maybe the real thing? A happy song at first that grows a bit eerie when two fuzzy guitars take over and the vocals go distorted. It turns even more scary with some ominous cello strings and mystic voices towards the end before things are smoothed out with the early morning birds singing as peacefully as they did initially.
I cannot tell yet if Swanlake Gate is a better album than its predecessors. It doesn't matter as long as it's great. And it is! One thing for sure is that it's got the fewest number of tracks (ten) than any of the other Dog Age albums, but I don't think it is the shortest one. More important, it doesn't include any weak tracks. The previous couple of Dog Age albums have been like meeting up with a good old, entertaining friend that you haven't seen in a long time, for a quiet pint or two. You know what to expect, you don't need time to get to know each other again, you're instantly back where you ended last time you met. Still you don't reminisce too much about old times and memories you have in common and talked about before. There's always something new and interesting to be learned, or some new perspective of life to reflect on. So also with Swanlake Gate.
In the closing track "Wasps" the band states that 'when you drink beer, you've got nothing to fear'. Why not head over to The Dog Age Psychedelic Beer Club for yet another one!
Copyright © 2015 JP