Review: Urdog ‘Long Shadows: 2003–2006’

The great Rocket Recordings don’t do a whole lot of retrospective releases so it speaks volumes for their personal adoration for relatively obscure Providence psych travellers Urdog that they felt compelled to unearth their work for a wider audience. Compiling tracks from three CDs released between 2003 and 2006 originally on the Secret Eye label, Long Shadows serves concurrently as an introduction to a newer, wider audience and perhaps a ‘best of’ for the previously initiated.

Urdog 'Long Shadows'

Urdog‘s guitar, Moog and drums line up (all three members David, Erin and Jeff appear to contribute vocals) produced music that felt strangely out of time and forward looking all at once, at times like the musical equivalent of your local vintage clothes shop. Much of the work here comes across like a soundtrack for an imagined future, with strangely dated electronic synthesised sounds, that would have felt ‘futuristic’ 50 years ago, entwined around the rattling guitar and drums. You can feel that while there were certainly obvious influences – I’d wager Silver Apples, krautrock and acid folk for example – the music contained here really was the honest by product of the three players, rather than a specifically retro approach.

And so under the microscope Urdog’s primary objective appears to have been to indulge themselves, and their audience, in a sort of hypnotic musical psychedelia. Songs seem to emerge from the fog, establish their core motif and develop in a way that feels almost free form and gradual over ten or so minutes. The Moog and drums often take the lead, with guitar and vocals offering more colour and texture a lot of the time – certainly if you expect wild Randy Holden guitar bursts when you see the word ‘psych’, you’ve got the wrong band.

Like on the track Anie Nie Ma: the trio take a simple basis, overlay it with semi-reversed flashback vocals, and build in tension rather than density, finding the strangest way they can to release it. An abrupt happens seemingly out of the blue, and they toy with that for a few minutes, before finding their way to another section laden with melodic chanting, before the recording fades out. It feels a bit like intruding on a private jam session. It often feels improvised and instinctual, with a whole lot of charm to it, which are both a strength and a weakness.

Urdog’s music often feels like it’s a journey, but often like a road to nowhere. As an overview of their work Long Shadows is definitely interesting, but also hugely frustrating in places, feeling somewhat meandering and stopping dead when you want it to go further – the closing Zombie Cloud for example is just under two minutes of a fantastic distorted organ and drum groove that’s just getting going when they bring it to a halt.

these recordings indicate a band operating on their own wavelength, without any regard for tradition…

The likes of Ice On Water or Triumph veer far from being trance like into clumsy and monotonous. The former, placed early on in the album will be the litmus test for many as it sets out a shambolic and overly long obstacle that will infuriate some and enamour others. How you react to that song will perhaps define how big a place Urdog are going to have in your heart.

Ironically though, given the tedium inducing length of that particular tune, it’s the album’s longest track Eyelid Of Moon that’s the most interesting. Again emerging from what sounds like a rickety jam at the start, about three minutes in, the band seem to find a solid basis for Erin Rosenthal‘s vocals to weave a melody through the chaos, her voice possessing a slightly nervous quality that works well with the music. When they hit the latter section of scraping sound effects into a lengthy jam, it does actually work, having an evocative feel that a lot of points on this collection miss.

There’s honestly a lot to be said whether you find them engaging or not, Urdog undeniably possess a very individual musical personality that, in hindsight, gives them that rare quality of being in their own sonic world. They’re an acquired taste for sure, and fall deeply into that special category of Marmite bands you’ll likely love or hate. It’s hard to be indifferent about them, and after a couple of listens to Long Shadows, it’s easy to see why they’ve rallied something of a quiet cult around them.

It feels patronising to tag them as ‘outsider’ music, but the homemade spontaneously engineered feel on much of these recordings indicate a band operating on their own wavelength, without any regard for tradition, which is always something to be respected. Memorable and interesting, if not always enjoyable or engaging.

Label: Rocket Recordings
Band Links: Bandcamp

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes