The unlikely-named Wartime Dogs are delivering a dreamy wash of 80s sensibilities that stands in direct juxtaposition of their own name!
Kicking off with Perfidy, the EP showcases simple 808 patterns and big slabs of keyboards mixed with organic, understated vocals, heavily-treated guitars and judicious dollops of dripping reverb. The mix of 3 tracks here is rubbing shoulders with the likes of New Order, Tears For Fears and, in a more contemporary vein, their fellow countryman, Tame Impala. (The TFF reference is there largely because some of the vocal qualities on display put me in mind of Curt Smith’s tone.) I think that the choice of keyboard sounds is also tipping its hat to the creators of the Stranger Things soundtracks in places.
Somewhat fresh and raw, a lot of the energy and excitement bleeds out of the tracks because they feel like they have been captured in a flurry of homespun excitement. In terms of spirit, I am very much reminded of the eponymous first album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Civilian feels earnest and honest and urgent.
Perfidy begins with high, gentle, melodic vocals perched atop throbbing synth bass and washes of synth pad before the 808 snare taps in and guitar arrives to add more human to the mix. More synths arrive to add breadth to the stereo mix and things are warmed up with harmony vocals. The lyrics are (regretfully for me) very hard to make out and are perhaps employed more as a feeling than as a direct communication device.
Guitar is more to the fore in the intriguingly-titled Regicide. A rolling groove and a lead synth voice that recalls 90s rave anthems are also present. The mood of the piece, and its melodic progression leaves the song suspended in an ever-searching holding pattern. It never seems to quite resolve, and rolls inexorably towards its conclusion – to then be subverted at the last minute by the synth and drums suddenly being faded from the mix to leave a shimmering pool of guitar decay and reverb behind. It gets to sparkle briefly before it’s rudely extinguished, and we, the listenership, are left to regroup as the rapid guitar picking of the final track kicks in.
Heavenscape is the third track in a row that boasts a title that speaks of intellect and intent behind this EP’s creation. The homespun and the human are at the fore of this finale. That guitar picking has never been near quantize, and the synths feel like they may have been played in manually, rather than sequenced.
In a departure from the first 2 tracks, backing vocals play a large part in establishing hooks and atmosphere, and the guitar is playing along in tight syncopation with the lead vocal line. After a whispered vocal at the top of the track, the layering of vocals and instruments and their volume both increase as the song progresses. I think I make out the lyrics, ‘The world opens / All for me’ as the song builds to a crescendo. I’m put in mind of the unison vocals employed by the shoegazing band Engineers (Ulrich Schnauss and co.). It’s my favourite personal moment on the EP.
A little digging around makes me feel like some of these tracks may have been composed as instrumentals first and it was a later decision to introduce vocals. In my book, that was a good decision – I’m a fan of vocals used for feel rather than as a soapbox. I’m certainly not seeking to undermine the importance of lyrics – far from it – but these 3 songs are all about feel for me. Once I’d abandoned hope of catching every word, I was happy to be swept along in the warmth of the nostalgia and the new melodies and sensibilities embedded within it.