Album Review: Doctor Baker’s “Trespassers”
ALBANY – Doctor Baker’s latest release, Trespassers, which came out on September 9th, is a nice blend of Americana, roots-rock, and a smattering of jazz. The group’s first full-length record, there’s some great material to unpack; some straightforward and some not so much! Combining tightly performed instrumentation with a vocal that explores some low and high notes without ever getting too adventurous, there’s something on this record for lots of various tastes in music.
To begin the album, “Exhausted,” blends elements of post-punk with pop-rock of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The guitars on this track are extremely jangly! During the chorus sections, the vocals and guitar have a nice call-and-response arrangement, and after the second chorus, we hear a very tastefully executed guitar solo, before the band jumps back into the refrain. Throughout the song, the melody floats along in an enjoyable, albeit predictable way. To end the song, we hear one more chorus, followed by a brief instrumental outro.
One thing I really enjoy about this record, is the sardonic nature of some of the band’s lyrics. Take for instance, “Miss Myself,” track two. The song tells a rather narcissistic story of the concept of missing one’s self after they have passed on, rather than those around the narrator who may actually be missing them. A lone guitar plays in the intro, and the band soon joins in. An unrelenting chordal motif plays throughout the verse and interlude sections, driving the vibe into listeners’ ears. The chorus features pounding drums between the vocal phrases. At about the halfway point, the song takes a completely unexpected turn when it slows down, becoming far more plaintive, before kicking back up in tempo and energy.
“Hey Romeo,” track three, features a higher-pitched guitar part; the audience has a chance to instantly familiarize themselves with a grooving part that sticks in the brain. Overall, the tune has a solid swing feel, with some very nice interplay between the vocal and instrumentation. Throughout the course of the song, the melody alters a bit in rhythm, making it an ear-grabbing change; it’s a great way to build an interesting arrangement. One thing that Doctor Baker really nails down well is crafting a memorable chorus section. While nothing is overtly difficult in lyrics or melody during these sections, that is precisely what makes them captivating and easy to get stuck in one’s head.
For the next song, “Holiday Lights,” some light guitar work brings the piece forward until we first hear the vocals enter. Through the tune, the instrumentation fills in the gaps nicely between melodic phrases. Developing further, the harmonies that are added gel quite effectively. In this song in particular, the drum fills are essential to the subtle jumps in energy as it progresses. During the latter half of the tune, overdriven electric guitar instrumentation enters the fray, bringing even more of a lift to the vibe, before we hear an interesting guitar solo outro. Not a lot of notes, perhaps, but all the right ones. Following this, we hear one more verse section before the track ends.
Changing things up a bit in the title track, track five, audiences are greeted with an incredibly fuzzy bass line. It’s filthy sounding and I love it. A lot of this instrumentation reminds this listener of Jethro Tull (no, not all Tull songs have the flute in them!). The blistering guitar performance turns a thus far “simple” sounding record – strictly in terms of the songs’ difficulty – into the goddamned stratosphere. After all of the frenzy concludes, the energy briefly tapers way down before building back up to finish the song.
Following up is “Dark Times.” There’re some really nice and snappy guitar chords on what sounds like the classic “single coil” sound. The vocals during the verse are paced in a peculiar fashion. Drums push and pull the feel of this song quite a bit; at times it sounds like they’re about to fall off the beat, but never do so. This cleverness in the arrangement is effective when executed well, as is the case with this tune. The fuzzy guitar solo that occurs about halfway serves well to break up the somewhat monotonous nature of this tune.
During the intro of “Little Space,” track seven, one of the guitar parts performs a nice interlude that features mid-to-high pitch bends. It’s not long before listeners realize this serves as the overall motif of interlude music for the song; it’s effective placing it in the intro in order to establish some familiarity with it. The lyric in this one is definitely quirky! “I used to stand up so much straighter/My spine stretching out to the sky/I could reach whatever I wanted/I thought I’d never be denied.” There’re also references throughout, including what this listener suspects to be a reference to Alice in Wonderland. To conclude the song, the same guitar interlude continues throughout the outro. From the start of the record, until now, the majority of the material has been fairly straightforward.
That being said, “Asylum,” track eight, is a tune in 6/8. It moves along at a quick clip and the guitar part in the intro really drives the song into action. These lyrics are definitely socially driven; a commentary about where we are currently as a nation. While never naming any one person, it’s fairly obvious who the words are being critical towards. After one of the choruses, a tasteful guitar solo is performed, at which point the drums kick up a couple of notches, and the overall energy of the piece soars. While the intensity of energy does slowly dip back down, it’s never to the extent where it was prior to the solo. At the final chorus, we hear one final refrain that is accompanied mainly by drums, with the occasional guitar chord. An extremely interesting and ear-grabbing way to end a tune!
Doctor Baker really branches out of the record’s sound with, “Keep it Shut,” track nine. The Latin inspired feel that permeates this tune is definitely a welcomed switch-up! Throughout the song, a bossa nova-esque groove (not quite a bossa nova pattern) really pushes the song forward. On top of that, the bass part on this track, in terms of how well it accompanies the other instrumentation, stands out far more than with other songs on this album.
The album’s penultimate track, “Permanent Migraine,” is a return to more straightforward songwriting. That being said, the subtle slapback delay on the guitar part sticks out nicely in the mix, as well as the vibrato. A sign of a good storyteller, and in this case, songwriter, is to have the details or info match the title of the work. This is certainly done well for this tune, as the chorus sounds a bit cluttered, and might serve well to convey the “sound” of a migraine. It’s the only tune on the record that has a fade-out.
Finishing off the record is “Us People.” There’re some really nice jazz voicings on the guitar in this track. On top of a bedrock of these types of chords, listeners are greeted with some nicely placed melodic guitar fills. This song incorporates far more jazz vibes than others on the album; it’s a mellow tune that greatly breaks up the flow of the album. Being the last on the record, ending it this way – introducing a whole new sound to their listeners – could very easily leave people wanting more. Out of the batch of tunes on this album, I can think of no better choice for a closing track!
It’s a fun record: accessible, mainly straightforward rock tunes with some interesting twists and turns along the way. With Trespassers, Doctor Baker has delivered a nice collection of songs that will easily find many of the choruses stuck in listeners’ minds. Check it out for yourself here.