Dr. Dog are a Philadelphia rock band that channel a classic aesthetic of blues, alternative rock and psych rock with pop tinge. They are incredibly prolific, releasing studio albums since 2002 and have been recording music in some form since they met in middle school. Their sound is reminiscent of The Beatles through a filter of Tame Impala. They also boast harmonized vocals from the entire band that end up sounding like Tim Delaughter from The Polyphonic Spree. Though clearly taking a lot of influences from decades of music. Dr. Dog have a charm all on their own and though not the most original charm it is still somewhat catchy. Songs like “Shadow People” showed an endearing and unique approach to their mesh of genres. Though it has been a while since Dr Dog have released an album that has been truly gripping.

On Critical Equation the band focus on creating an album of tricky love themed ballads infused with an organ heavy driving rhythm and spots of psychedelia that keep the album from feeling stale or generic for the most part. In fact, the band often save songs from falling into cliché with a vast range of instrumentation of vocal elements. Though the lead vocals comes from Toby Leaman, the fore-mentioned contributions from all the band member, always give each track somewhere to build to. Like on title track “Critical Equation.” The verses are incredibly simple with one set of strangled vocals that build into a harmonised chorus that with the use of organ sound like a heavenly hymn with doom looming in the background. Just one example of the contrast the band can create in a single track.

The band does slip into generic lyrics and sounds occasionally however. “True Love” as you’d expect does little to bring anything new to vast pit of love inspired lyrics in rock and roll. It sounds like an altered covers of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” though Dr Dog’s charm still makes the song listenable even if it is incredibly cheesy. Unfortunately this isn’t the only instance on the album where the lyrics leave something to be desired on the album. Though there is an infectious synth line, “Heart Killer” ends up standing out as the most repetitive and underdeveloped song on the album. Which is disappointing because a lot of these concepts have been explored so much more uniquely by the band in previous albums.

Apart from those two instances however, Dr Dog does manage to come through with some interesting lyricism and approaches to love and heartbreak. “Night” and “Under the Wheels” explore a lonely bleak world with an indie-pop sensibility that would make The Flaming Lips proud. “Night” with kaleidoscopic synth building a unique sense of emotion for the albums most sombre track. As you can see it is hard to listen to this album without mentioning bands that Dr. Dog sound like. Though they manage to be distinguishable from those pool of bands, they definitely do not reach the level of originality that they have previously and it is clear that is increasingly hard for the band to sound as fresh as they once did. Though the band have clocked a huge number of music under their belt, there seems an extra element missing from this project. Not to mention the production sounding messier and muddier than earlier output.

That doesn’t keep Critical Equation from being a fun and listenable album. The closing track “Coming out the darkness” perfectly describes the balance the band strike here. Coming out A mixture of gloomy topics and sombre instrumental into the light and glittery crescendos. A lot of the songs are made by this balance. Coming out the Darkness deals with the edge of a depression and recovery in one’s life and the moment you decide to change that. Though a morbid subject, it is dealt with a sunny disposition that tops of the album as a set of inoffensive addition to Dr Dog’s discography.

Longtime fans of the band will not find a rebirth in Critical Evaluation but you may find an upbeat improvement on recent efforts. Dr. Dog after years of making music can still write a convincing hook and still have moments of psychedelia that just stops them from falling the indie landfill of bands that share the same influences.