Published Apr 21, 2009Music and complacency do not go well together, yet evolution is a tricky proposition. Artists are invigorated by their newfound leap while the fans scratch their heads and wonder what the hell happened. There is no formula for making it work, it just does (or doesn't). Case in point: the third album from Halifax's Dog Day, Concentration, may feel uncomfortable at first but it is a courageously capital "A" album in an era of singles. Spreading the pop/post-punk tension and angst across a broadened instrumental palette, it is both familiar and completely alien.
Dog Day are four people sectioned off into two couples. Seth Smith and Nancy Urich started Dog Day from the ashes of the Burdocks, while KC Spidle and Crystal Thili came from the defunct hardcore act the Hold. "At the end of the Burdocks we were getting into math rock and pretty experimental stuff and while it was definitely fun, I also had these simple songs that I liked playing," Smith remembers. "Dog Day was, for me, a way to play these simple songs and not really worry about looking at my hands when I'm playing. It started up pretty simple and that was the idea: just to have a band that was pretty simple."
Dog Day's music may sound simple but the layers and tight construction showcase some really catchy shit. This was expertly demonstrated on their last album, Night Group. The name was taken from the nocturnal hours of recording at a large studio, when it was much cheaper. For Smith, "The problem with big studios is that even if you have a friend working there, it costs a lot of money and it accumulates quickly. It actually took us forever to finish [Night Group] because we were doing it in really small chunks and we had a lot of friends who had offices in that building so it was basically a bunch of parties during our recording sessions. It was hard to get a lot of work done and it was costly. It was a big studio recording but I think it sounds lo-fi and pretty naked because we were running out of money at that point."
The tightly coiled post-punk sung by the laconic Smith and Urich struck a nerve, but there were still creative avenues for Dog Day not fulfilled by the successful Night Group. Thus, the first surprise of Concentration is the fact it still has the same nervous pop energy of Night Group, but the tension's been ratcheted down, allowing their "simple" style to flourish.
As Smith explains, "Night Group is definitely a fast record, but we wanted to relax a little bit more on this record and have some songs that have energy live but still rock out. It's a pretty watery sounding record and that smoothes it all out." Mentioning the controversial idea of it being a "grower," Smith is not taken aback. "I find that pop music is having a hard time right now; most of my friends have a million MP3s on their hard drive and people have so much music they don't actually listen to a new record as much or thoroughly get to know it. It's forcing a lot of music these days to be instantly likeable and hooky but turns out to be shallow."
Just like the shifts in style, Smith admittedly varies the recording process for each album, noting, "I usually do most of the production recording work on these records because I have a bunch of gear and I like doing it but, for me, from the starting of the Burdocks to the end of this last record, I seem to have a pattern from recording in a studio and then I get sick of that so the next record I just want to do it all DIY and then I get sick of all the work that that entails and then for the next record we'll go the studio and they'll do everything." While you would think the nocturnal stress of Night Group would lead to an expansive DIY approach, the time was actually quite compact. Yet, Concentration was not a rushed album. Smith notes, "It came together pretty fast but we still had that freedom where we could play with weird instruments and percussion and play with samples and sounds because we weren't paying for anything."
As titles go, this one is quite apt, as puzzles requiring concentration don't give up their answers easily and when they do, the prize is oh so much sweeter. Smith states, "I'm not going to explain [the title] as it's a powerful word and I think people can make up their own meaning. I think it sums up the feeling of the record and us as a band sometimes. It sounds flaky but we really were in a concentrating mindset and when we were writing these songs, this was the album where I felt most like a songwriter. KC wrote half this record and I wrote the other half but we worked together and really thought about this stuff."
While Dog Day goes for leaps and twists, their experiments really just bring out the fundamentals of what make their music so warm, approachable and downright catchy. Change is in the future, but pun intended, it will no doubt concentrate their strength even more. "We're definitely going to try something new," Smith says about their next step, "Reading how your last record was received and playing the songs on tour will dictate what kind of direction you feel like going with your next record. Last time we played these songs and it was fun to play fast songs and grindy power chords but we just wanted to explore some new avenues. After this we'll probably want to do something different."