Teeth Marks by New Dog is not a record that fits in with a lot of trends. The gorgeous, spartan, 10-song solo record from Anar Badalov is best consumed as a whole, doesn’t have a clear single, doesn’t traffic in huge melodies, unflinchingly documents modern ennui, and subsequently could not be considered “fun” in very many ways. However, it is the sort of record that enfolds me, transports me, and calms me. It has depths to be plumbed, sonically and lyrically. It rewards those who take time with it, as opposed to trying to digest it on the fly. It is a grower, and it requires you to wait. But it rewards those who delve into the record with a singular, intriguing, mesmerizing experience.
Badalov alternates between delicate guitar and careful piano to create the foundations of this record. (The exceptions are the gorgeously arpeggiated “3 a.m.” and the electric guitar of “Here All Days.”) Over those instruments he whispers, talks, wonders, ponders and even sometimes sings. He approaches vocals more like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen–there are some melodies, but melodies are not required to create indelible vocal performances. This dismissal of the standard rules opens up a lot of space for Badalov to create tunes: untethered from the expectations of melody, the verse/chorus/verse structure that supports big melodies goes out the window too.
As a result, the tunes sometimes have repeated sections, and sometimes don’t–sometimes the repetition is only a fragment of a thing. Instruments drop in and out of songs; sections lead to other sections and then don’t return to the first thing. It creates an air of mystery and excitement, even in the supremely downtrodden lyrical environment. There’s an idea around every corner; not in a hectic, herky-jerky sort of way, but in a “whoa, come look at this” sort of way. Check out “Lover’s Palm” for an example, or “Sudden Amnesia,” or “3 a.m.” to hear it in action.
And although acoustic guitar and piano create the framework, there’s a lot of distorted synths that enforce a sort of sonic isolation and grinding intensity to the otherwise chill tunes. The use of the noise in contrast to the relaxing arrangements accentuates the lyrics that alternate between very meticulous descriptions of modern ennui (“Here All Days,” “Home by Five,” “Nothing Has Changed”) and the intensity of regrets (“Joe Brainard’s Idea”) and fear of aging (“3 a.m.,” “The Party”). It’s just another carefully planned element of the album.
Teeth Marks is so completely realized that the album artwork is essentially what I would have made up for it if I had to choose it on my own: rich dark blues ripped by a sudden energy (in this case, a flash of lightning). I would have thrown a cityscape in there in substitution for the trees, but otherwise the album art evokes its contents beautifully. If you’re up for a singer/songwriter album that breaks the mold in a variety of ways, New Dog’s Teeth Marks will pleasantly surprise you.