A long-considered follow-up to 2014’s E’rebody (ignoring for a moment a few intervening EPs and singles because the lads are irrepressible), Los Doggies’ new full-length Ear Op plays in some ways like a rejoinder to and correction of its predecessor: lean in all the ways that E’rebody was opulent and overstuffed, live and dangerous in all the ways that E’rebody was pure studio indulgence and the prerogatives of do-it-yourself maximalism.
That is ironic, because Ear Op finds the veteran New Paltz trio opting, for the very first time, not to self-produce. This time, the Doggies called upon the New Paltz-based indie- and post-rock producer Kevin McMahon. McMahon is best-known for his work with the epic punk group Titus Andronicus, the avant-noise legends Swans, the clinical indie guitar-pop band Real Estate and some other nationally known acts with a mind toward distinctive guitar sonics, including the wispy and retro Widowspeak and the grotesquely-named-but-quite-lively Diarrhea Planet.
But to understand McMahon’s surprising simpatico with the indie/prog ambitions of Los Doggies (Ear Op is a full-length record with only four songs), one might better look to McMahon’s work as writer and guitarist in his own band, Pelican Movement, than to the bands that he is best-known for producing. Los Doggies, like Pelican Movement, can be described as prog/rock without its customary pomposity and mythic dressing: long-form, odd in its time signatures, permissive of a great deal of dissonance and irresolution but, in its own way, quite often pretty and Beatlesque. Los Doggies seemed to represent a kind of music that McMahon wants to hear and to make, rather than the kind that he customarily sees at Marcata, his barn studio on the outskirts of New Paltz.
The result of this pairing is a disciplined and Spartan record that never violates the spirit of live performance, chopsy-but-imperfect and out-on-a-limb. Ear Op emphasizes the palpability and character of the band’s core sounds rather than the maximal, Baroque (and utterly delightful) excess of most of the band’s previous output. It shares at times of the loose-but-right shambolic stumbling of Pavement or Built to Spill, but does so in razor-sharp 7/4 and signatures more obscure. It is both an aggressive record and a strangely vulnerable one. And it sounds amazing.
The evolution of Los Doggies is apparent on the lyrical level as well. Ear Op deals thematically – in ways both lucid and wildly indirect – with the experience and aftermath of the ear surgeries endured by brothers Jesse Stormo (guitar and vocals), Evan Stormo (drums and vocals) and not, one presumes, by bassist Matt Ross. In the past, the band was more likely to sing about music theory and farts – both perfectly defensible themes, mind you, but Ear Op absolutely represents growth and a willingness, at least, to experiment with self-seriousness.
Los Doggies celebrate the release of their bracing, impressive and moving new record Ear Op with a performance at the place where all New Paltz bands celebrate everything – Snug Harbor – on Saturday, September 9 at 11 p.m. For more information on Ear Op and Los Doggies,