Reverb. It is an effect that adds a layer of mystery and haze to almost any recording, and when employed correctly, can define the sound of a band or solo artist. Singers like Thom Yorke and Jim James have based their careers around creating sky-high vocals that seem to be transmitted from another planet, and their respective voices just might not have the same endearing quality without the added echo. The same holds true of Phil Jones, former keyboardist for Washed Out, and the mastermind behind Dog Bite. On his most recent album, Velvet Changes, Jones melds the looped and driving beats of early TV on the Radio with the disaffected vocals of Real Estate, and even adds in a little fuzz bass for good measure. It is an interesting debut album that can sometimes lose its impact on mere computer speakers, but shines on a more advanced audio set up.
Although it begins slowly, Velvet Changes begins to pick up steam beginning with track four, “Prettiest Pills.” The introduction to this song features some of the most raw guitar work on the album, and though the lyrics are mostly indecipherable it is easy to be hooked by the descending chord progression. There is little room to breathe within these sonic landscapes, but Jones does a fine job of making each instrument heard. By isolating lone guitar in certain portions of each song, or peeling away the reverberating din to reveal the drum track, Dog Bite keeps the middle section of Velvet Changes intriguing.
With the exception of the unmemorable “Holiday Man” the album remains particularly focused as it meanders towards its conclusion. Immediately following “Prettiest Pills,” “You’re Not That Great” features a fuzzed out bass line, and a steadily repeating drum beat. Its vocal section and guitar work could most readily be compared to that of Real Estate, all laconic singing and slow picking. “Native America” is another highlight, with even more propulsive drumming, and is interestingly juxtaposed with a chorus that tells the listener, “Let’s not rush.” Finally, “Paper Lungs” and “Stay Sedated” cap off a great three song run, with the former sporting a truly menacing guitar distortion, and the latter encouraging fevered air-drumming with its programmed boom-bap beat.
Last year a few of my friends saw Washed Out, and highly recommended Ernest Greene’s electro dance project. With Dog Bite, Phil Jones has taken some of the Washed Out ingredients, namely the driving beats, and paired them with a shoe gaze, reverb drenched backdrop. Velvet Changes is a rare album that can be played while you’re hanging on the couch, or walking quickly to the subway. Just make sure to bring along some nice headphones, so as not to miss any of the echoing goodness contained within.