So I was driving to work the other day, and decided to try out the new record from Arizona’s the Format, Dog Problems. Long story short, throughout the duration of that half-hour ride, I felt like it was going to be a good day.
Dog Problems is so pop that it hurts. It’s as pop as this kind of music can get while still retaining an indie or rock sensibility. Laced with acoustic guitars, piano, moog, bells, some tasteful horns, and a light-hearted feel to the music, this album is perfect for a summer drive down to the shore. This group has a knack for creating insanely catchy tunes, and although the lyrics are filled with spite and despair, you wouldn’t even be able to tell, as it’s placed over some happy-as-hell music. If you need a smile, I’d suggest Dog Problems.
While we’re focusing on the lyrics, it’s fair to say that someone broke vocalist Nate Ruess’ heart. Actually, I should rephrase: Someone absolutely freaking annihilated this dude’s whole life. Songs about girls can be rather tame and also pretty whiny, but the words here really paint a picture of how distraught this man really is. I myself really feel bad for this guy, and it’s not every day that someone can really evoke such emotion and sympathy in their lyrics. It almost gives Dog Problems an ironic feel, with the music sickeningly happy and poppy and the lyrics all upset. Regardless, I felt it was an important point to bring them up, as most other poppier music dismisses lyrics entirely.
While Dog Problems has its fair share of great songs, it falls victim to another demon of pop: the inevitable boring filler. When creating music so simplistic and catchy, it’s easy to just completely miss the mark and make something totally bland, and songs like “Dead End,” “Pick Me Up,” and “The Compromise” are prime offenders. The last of the three tries to replicate the guitar-driven sound of the band’s previous works, and sticks out like a sore thumb, while the first two boast weak choruses, the prime driving factor in a great, catchy song. “Snails,” from the band’s previously released EP of the same name, is dumbed down with the inclusion of a faux-string section which just sounds cheesy, and “Matches,” although just an album opener, doesn’t really engage the listener.
The band is at the top of their game when it sounds like they’re going with the flow and not trying to overdo it, as “She Doesn’t Get It” and “Oceans” don up-front keyboard pieces and upbeat rhythms. The title track is all over the place, yet strangely feels pulled together, creating one of the more interesting songs this year, and “Time Bomb” is straight-up infectious. The final standout track is the closing track, which starts out acoustic and then rocks -- not in the vein of “The Compromise” in trying to still be overly catchy, but instead speeds ahead to the finish line, all with the most hopeful lyrics throughout the twelve tracks. It’s a nice way to end such a lyrically depressed effort.
There’s not too much reason to totally dislike Dog Problems. Take it for what it is: pop music. You may not like it at first (hell, I sure didn’t), but it takes on a new light when it’s blasting out your windows on a warm, sunny morning. Maybe that’s the key? Who knows, but I do recommend this.