Dog Bite is a tough name. It sounds like the name of the bully in every coming-of-age movie; that guy with one crooked tooth and a buzz cut. Tranquilizers, on the other hand, is not a tough album. It’s an album of supple pop nuggets that go down like goddamn butter. But that doesn’t mean it’s got no bite. Instead, it’s a suppressed bite. Tranquilizers is muzzled.
The name of the album is the true clue here: something harsh, potentially rabid, subdued to a near-slumber. It’s a tingling buzz beneath the surface of urbane, billowing silk symphonies that are almost heavy enough to keep all of the mouth-foaming reverb out of the picture. Like on Wonder Dark, where the beats sound like the Headless Horseman clomping up stairs, but the guitar sounds like a tropical island and frontman Phil Jones sounds like a friendly ghost. The track’s rougher edges struggle to be heard, but they’re there. And in a time when garbled and glugged in reverb is pretty much the modus operandi for would-be famed guitar slingers, Dog Bite manages to shake the system.
Take Dream Feast, for example. At its core, the song isn’t much more than a staticky post-punk joint. But with just a few flairs of crushed synths and tambourine shakes, it becomes a spacey nightmare of erratic jingles. Lady Queen moves in a new direction, with a looping, tinny beat flicking against Jones’s magnetic croon. Tuesdays is a sticky, hovering track whose first lyrics are a defeated-sounding “I’m unhappy.” Clarinets is the best song on the album, a lullaby with electrified beats that sound like fading thunder claps. Dog Bite also does ’80s cinema tunes (Rest Assured), underwater folk (Royals) and straight-up guitar-choking (We).
Though that sounds like a lot, Tranquilizers is only ten tracks long, and the entire LP glides by without much fanfare. It’s hard to say if that’s a good or bad thing. Known to many as the former keyboardist for Ernest Greene’s musical baby, Washed Out, Jones has a deeply notched wave-genre to tread out of, especially since last year’s Velvet Changes did little to quell chillwave reservations. Tranquilizers is an entirely pleasant listen, but its deviations are rare, which make the just-hidden nuances that much more frustrating to hear. And yet, it seems like with a bit of artificially-induced hibernation, Dog Bite could soon be living up to the sharpness of its name.