You’ve got to wonder why Phil Jones, the man behind Dog Bite, decided to put out Tranquilizers in the frosted depths of January. The sky is the colour of a filing cabinet. Your legs are the texture of an uncooked supermarket chicken. No one can remember what it feels like to have fingers. Now is patently not the time for ten woozy, dreamy, low-key electro-tinged tracks that scream – or rather, whisper – heavy blue skies, bare skin and holiday snaps distorted by lens flare.
For Tranquilizers is an Indian summer in album form, those mournful early-September days where everything is wrapped in a soft honey-coloured glow and everyone is trying to ignore the nagging fact that it’ll start getting cold soon. So January seems an odd choice.
Tranquilizers is the second LP from Dog Bite, former touring keyboardist with so-called ‘chillwave’ act Washed Out, a follow-up to last year’s debut Velvet Changes. It’s a more electronic-sounding album than Velvet Changes, on which Jones picked out delicate, sharp-edged guitar melodies that rang out over blurred background synths; Tranquilizers sees a less organic sensibility creeping into those gauzy layers of guitars.
The album’s second track, We, may start off sounding uncannily like Pulp’s cheeky early ’90s single Babies – to the extent that it’s a genuine surprise when Jones’ voice kicks in, rather than Jarvis Cocker’s – but it soon breaks into something much airier, those heavily reverb-ridden guitar notes building and echoing into a dreamy, shoegazey noise backed by loose, baggy trip-hop beats. Following track Lady Queen is an infectious slice of chilled-out synth-punk that sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as heard from a distance, with Karen O replaced by a bloke who’s just woken up from a very deep sleep – euphoric synths underpinned by grinding guitars and dancey, cymbal-heavy percussion.
We and Lady Queen aren’t particularly high-energy, but for a large portion of the album they’re the most upbeat tracks on there – Tranquilizers is for the most part a downbeat, languorous record that’s more suited to lying on the floor contemplating the universe than anything else. At times, this approach really pays off: Tuesdays combines slowly churning chords, crisp rhythms and a piercing, slowed-down glam rock guitar line to mesmeric effect, Jones’ doleful vocals providing a softer, simpler counterpoint to the busier guitar parts.
Royals is more reminiscent of a gentler Paper Planes than Lorde’s smash single of the same name, Jones chanting distantly over a trickling, feather-light melody, while Dream Feast more than lives up to its name, serving up dense layers of compressed synths over those relaxed trip-hop drum beats. It’s the best track on the album, its ominous, breathy intro the calm before a slow-motion storm of synths and vocals, Jones’ voice more an extension of the music than anything else. Listening to it is like slowly and willingly sinking into treacle.
Elsewhere, though, the feeling is more wading through quicksand. At times, Jones’ insistence on the slow burning and spaced out begins to smother; there’s only so much you can do with one tempo, a drum machine and a handful of synth settings. Tracks like Clarinets, Wonder Dark and L’Oiseau Storm just don’t really go anywhere, meandering around for a while without ever hooking you in. The album ends on a high note with the addictively odd Rest Assured, a relatively upbeat number where dissonant sawtooth synth blips clash over sweeping drones, but as an injection of energy it comes a little bit too late. Ultimately, though, Tranquilizers is an album that’s entrancing enough to survive its occasional foray into the lacklustre, and definitely one to cue up when the sky gets a little bit bluer.