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Recalling a sort of lazy country twang, Kentucky alt-rockers doofus bring sunshine sounds to your ears like no other. Wildflower hikes on windy afternoons spent lying on your back in the grass watching the clouds are captured and released in the form of “Oilmoth” and “Losing Smile.” Opening with the driving “Reno Failure,” dog days is frogs and crickets at night, birds and bees in the morning and distant lawnmowers during the afternoon; an infectious sense of relaxed fun that feels like it came straight from the places that inspired it.
Main songwriter Haps Lange plays a fine slide guitar, adding perfect accompaniment and southern muscle to “Slunk” and “Big Whoop” with a catalog of colors. The songs this time retain their rural roots while exploring new paths over the meadow and through the woods, sometimes finding things a bit less accommodating. Sinister would definitely be the wrong word, but the stories the songs represent seem more fleshed out this time, and some stories contain scenes that might not be suitable for all audiences. Think of it as a 13 slapped on the band’s previous PG rating, not in terms of language or even subject matter but in aural terms, where now the band plays a lot more with dynamics and unexpected key changes to emphasize the more rounded material.
The band’s third release with Corky Vellum on vocals really shines when the stakes are low, but it’s when the needle starts to twitch into the red that things get interesting. Suddenly the slow party roll has some twists and turns that serve to stimulate the groove without losing sight of it, giving the songs a solidity that’s welcome because it only strengthens what’s already there. Throwing a bluesy tint over some of the more winsome tunes highlights the singer’s flair for the unexpected, with most of his choices working beautifully. Now a full fledged member of the band, Vellum is more willing to involve his mates in the vocal duties, designing deceptively complex harmonies to give the songs a campfire quality that somehow doesn’t sound campy.
Bassist German Russo and drummer Bran Gnu keep it simple, their tight stripped down sound as lively as ever, always playing what’s right for the song and never failing to make the most of a moment to shine. Russo’s “Jungle Socks” really spins with some acrobatic drum fills punctuating a lean bass slap, while Lange’s tones evoke sandy camel tracks and sunburnt whispers.
“Irish Taco” and “Peter Pandemic” are two standouts that show how far doofus has come. While still keeping their muddy swamp slog limber as ever, the band manages to expand their horizon of breezy takes on summer woods stompers and lazy Sunday drives into town for a bottle of pop. They add some wonderful grit and slime that doesn’t sound the least bit forced or calculated. It’s as earnest an effort as the band has made, which is saying something, since they’re known for their laid back, no pretense sound and live shows. There’s a maturity and confidence to the glide now, the band comfortable in an assortment of rhythms and atmospheres, making for a comfy ride.
With an intimate sense of space and typical winning production by The Whiz Kids (Fay Runaway, Mark Charmon, and Yoko Bono), dog days sounds good, feels good and makes any day one spent outside when the livin’s easy.