Haste isn't a quality you'd expect from shoegaze band - especially considering the lifetime it took some of the genre's most iconic acts to put out albums. But in an effort to buck the habit of their forbears - or perhaps make up for lost time - Atlantan natives Dog Bite (led by frontman and one time Washed Out keyboardist Phil Jones) have returned little under a year since the release of their patchy first LP - this time armed with the threat of robuster sonic intent.
Their debut - Velvet Changes - was awash with synth atmospherics and vocal drones, which combined echoes of Nineties shoegaze with the chillwave aesthetics of their contemporaries. The resultant album was an uneven and frustrating experience, one which fell short between both genres; too lightweight to express any genuine feeling, too drone-soaked to pull off a pop sensibilities. It took a paint-by-numbers approach to its muse that resulted in a banal but passable album; which was rewarded for its efforts with overwhelming critical indifference.
Latest release Tranquillisers attempts to rectify this situation by bringing greater focus to Dog Bite's sound. It allegedly takes its cues from classic soul and funk - but incorporating a darker twist - to give their soundscapes more gravitas and bring forth some of the passion and depth which was absent from their sterile first attempt.
It certainly begins well enough; fuzzy instrumental drones and surf-rock clatter reverberate around the sedate percussion of opener 'There Was A Time', with a new texture that creates an altogether larger sound. 'We' revels in drifting, hook laden indie-pop, interlaced with soporific guitars and jangling harmonies. These warmer sonics bringing with them a greater sense of identity and interest, one that was almost entirely absent in last year's offering; and finally they seem like a band making genuine progress - rather than genuine pastiche.
Opening highs aside, things soon become less clear cut and the album starts to suffer from a similar malaise to its predecessor. 'Lady Queen' - titled like a Tony Ferrino song and with lyrics to match - is a droning churn of synths and heavy, recursive three chord riffs; which sees Jones singing about "...a beauty queen, with a heart of gold" in his laconic monotone. Less a fully formed song than a half-sketched idea, the rhythm is decent enough but rather than taking time to build layers, it's left to fizzle out in little over two minutes - while the overwhelming emotion it instills is one of being short-changed. It's from there the mid-section of the album follows a dispiritingly similar pattern, inspiring little more than the odd spark of interest. Songs swirl with languorous dead-end harmonies, as Jones does his best pitchless, indecipherable, grunge-lite vocals and songs either aimlessly peter out ('Tuesdays'), drown in their own monotony ('Dream Feast') or dissolve into undercooked Toro Y Moi-esque cuts ('Royals' and 'L'oiseau Storm').
That's not to say the back end of Tranquillisers is all bad; the recursive disquiet of 'Wonder Dark' - with it's oscillating throb and off-kilter percussive timing - or the sweet synthesised tintinnabulate which gives way to undulating guitars on 'Clarinets' are slender highlights. While the techno judder of 'Rest Assured' closes the album with the tease of an electro high; holding a startling vibrance, quite different to everything that has proceeded it - it arrives too late to the party to make any real difference.
The nucleus of a decent album is here, but for now it remains out of reach. It's certainly an improvement on their debut and holds good on Jones' promise to create darker and grander textures, but it constantly falls wide of the mark. Failing to engage across a series of half thought out ideas that confuse moody tones for increased substance. Somewhere, there's a bad pun to be made about how this record is 'all bark and no bite'...but the truth is Tranquillisers has no teeth; being neither truly reprehensible nor in the slightest bit memorable. We can only hope that next time Dog Bite take their time before rushing back into the studio.
5Tom Fenwick's Score