Some days I feel myself perched on the metaphorical diving board that overlooks the pool of spacetime, unsure of whether to jump in. The pull of long-ago is real and strong, with certain songs triggering memories and certain memories triggering songs. Giving into the temptation to wallow in that morass—there’s much comfort to be had. There always is. Now, cultural critics often decry such nostalgic yearnings by pointing out all that was wrong in any given time, but what they miss is that, for most, it’s never about the world writ large. It’s about the world writ small—family, friends, neighborhoods and parks, of making a stop-action cartoon with friends in 9th grade, one of whom passed away this year, to co-writing a screenplay with a pal in study hall a few years later.
But Dog Hours, the sophomore set from Philly power-pop practitioners Big Nothing, has stemmed the tide for this old, greying cat. At 10 songs and just 27 minutes, it’s a fast listen filled with ringing guitars, a reverberating bass and big drums, and tight melodies punctuated by guitar solos that never overstay their welcome. There’s also this: Due to the pandemic, the band members found themselves working out their songs alone in their thin-walled homes; i.e., there’s an acoustic quotient at play, too, with the strummed strings forming a perfect bed for some electric fun. Dub it “Americana power pop.”
The excitement gets underway with “Always on My Mind,” about that funny feeling Bobby Darin sang about way back when: “When it’s time to go, I’ll stay a little longer/When I’m feeling low, I’ll stand a little taller/I’ve been thinking lately, I’ve been feeling high/I’ve been thinking lately that you’re the reason why.”
The band, I hasten to add, consists of guitarists Pat Graham and Matt Quinn, bassist Liz Parsons and drummer Chris Jordan; the first three all contribute songs and lead vocals, while Jordan keeps a big beat that would make Skip Meyer proud. Another highlight is the Parsons-led “Still Sorta Healing,” about moving on from a failed relationship.
Thematically speaking, the infectious tunes are accented by what the press release calls “all life’s uncertainties” and an “existential dread,” with the first informed by growing older and the second a lingering result of the pandemic. That yin-yang effect, of bright tunes accented by dark lyrics, isn’t new, of course, but is welcome all the same; they each act as counterweights to the other. “A Lot of Finding Out,” for instance, is about not recognizing who we’ve become; “Don’t Tell Me” is about avoiding the obvious; the title track observes that “you’ve been counting out the days in dog hours”; “Make Believe” about ignoring “the death in the air”; and “What I Wanna Say” explores things left unsaid.
Many will hear echoes of the past within the album’s grooves, from the Byrds to Tom Petty to the latter-day Replacements. I also hear echoes of such Philly-centric bands as Buzz Zeemer and the Shambles, though I doubt Big Nothing are familiar with either of them. That they’ve tapped into the same strain of the collective unconscious is way cool, however.