’ debut LP Wolf Like a Stray Dog
is a solid and short one. The album is over in a flash, with all the tracks, minus one, clocking in under two and a half minutes. The songs are snapshots, but they do not feel cut short despite their limited runtime. It is more an in-and-out effectiveness of punks Minor Threat or Bad Brains. The lyrics on the album are just great. Mulvihill could have easily allowed the album to rely on its poetic strength, but instead, with the help of Dr. Dog
’s Eric Slick, among others, he was able to capture the emotions of the words, and counter them with a prancing, percussive folk sound.
The minimalist opening of “And Then I Found Myself in Taiga” introduces the listener to singer/mandolin player Brendan Mulvihill’s quivering tenor and ruminant, gentle lyrics. A lot of Norwegian Arms’ appeal up until this album were those sticking points, but as soon as they introduce Mr. Slick’s dynamic percussion, it changes the way that you look at the band entirely. The sound from previous demos is really flipped on its head, and suddenly the mandolin is complimenting the tribal percussion that is the heartbeat of the LP. The opening track is significantly more put together than anything the band had released before, which is not to say the lo-fi approach didn’t have its benefits, but the sound on this album realizes the songs in a way that a lo-fi approach could not.
The title track “Wolf Like a Stray Dog” has an animalistic charm of Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs - both in subject and the primal nature of the song itself. Maybe it is a cop out, but there were numerous times when I heard that era of AnCo in Norwegian Arms. There are dynamic similarities, thematic similarities and vocal similarities. That is a compliment by the way.
Another rewarding listen on the record is “She Lives in a Secret Town,” which also showed up on their Trimming of Hides EP. If you really want to understand how the new recordings changed their sound for the better, just listen to both versions of that song, and you will get it. Simple things like the sparse lead guitar do wonders for the song. “Soviet Bicycle” has a hypnotic repetition to it. It is a dizzying listen, and fully captures the bike ride that the band takes you on. The song is really clever in that way, and for that matter, the whole album. One of the earlier tastes that we sampled of the LPwas “Tired of Being Cold”; the ever relatable lament about not only being cold, but self-reflection and the inevitability of aging. The record closes with the declarative, bouncy “Pu-Erh.” The song removes you from the cold being sung about, and places you in a sandy oasis where your only obligations are to relax and enjoy.
Wolf Like a Stray Dog is fully immersive. It is a cocoon to protect from external surroundings. At the same time, it obsesses about external surroundings while displaced. Throughout the record, you can hear Mulvihill question and reaffirm his purpose. He does so with vignettes - some seemingly unrelated but all ultimately essential. There is a lot to say for an album with no filler. It is melodic, it is therapeutic, and it is truly fulfilling. - Adam G.