By The Format
Not many here in the UK have probably heard of The Format, but they've been steadily building up a solid fanbase in their native US, and Dog Problems is their second album proper after 2003's Interventions and Lullabies. Essentially a duo, (Nate Reuss and Sam Means have now recruited other musicians to comprise a full band) it's the diversity and intelligence of the songs on offer here that really set this album apart.
For instance, the big band/caberet style of I'm Actual and Dog Problems manage to combine horns, guitars and percussion to create a sound that is jaunty, witty and rather bizarre, whilst Oceans and Pick Me Up straddle a more traditional line of synth-pop that is both endearing and utterly charming. Dog Problems succeeds where so many albums fail: it tries its hand at many styles and pulls off them all with aplomb. A big reason for this is Reuss' voice. Whether screaming in anguish on If Work Permits ('Lord knows I could use a warm kiss, instead of a cold goodbye') or gently and soulfully contemplating a life lead too fast on Snails ('snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch'), his delivery is impeccable, his range quite astonishing.
Lyrically Dog Problems is also very strong, nowhere more evident than in Time Bomb. A bouncy, catchy slice of indie rock, closer listening reveals a tale of girl that is out of control, and is destroying those around her. ('Was it worth what you did to your wrists? Was it worth what your friends put up their noses?') and the contrast only serves to emphasise the impact of the words sung. The Compromise deals with the period in which the band were dropped following their debut two years ago, and is bursting with acute and humorous observations of the charade that befalls those who sign to major labels ('Don't you dare ask questions just sign on the dotted line').
At times The Format recall The Cure, Ben Folds, Pavement and even Abba(!), but crucially they manage to retain an identity that is all their own. Dog Problems manages to be experimental without being pretentious, intelligent without being dull, and catchy without being throwaway. I urge you to give this album a listen, it would be tragic for it to remain an undiscovered gem.