The Format’s latest full-length, Dog Problems, came to me in quite an unusual way. Upon tearing the shipping envelope, a thick, near-tome of stapled papers tumbled off of my table, and into the floor at my feet. I was more than intrigued, so I started on it. Turns out the tome of paper was actually a letter penned by Format lead singer Nate Ruess that chronicles the near-defeating travails of getting Dog Problems made. It’s written in that intimate, unpretentious way you would write in your journal, or in an e-mail to a close friend. It’s fluid, it’s honest; and most importantly it’s real. It’s even been posted on Nate’s LiveJournal. It’s easy to see that it isn’t some sort of gimmick to try and garner some ‘indie cred’ or the like; it’s just a guy extremely ecstatic that he finally got to make the album that he wanted to; and is even more ecstatic that you actually want to listen to it. I’ve never met Nate Ruess; but darn do I like him.
Before getting my hands on Dog Problems, I was already fairly familiar with The Format. I had caught them a year or so ago on an opening bill; and liked them enough to pick up a copy of their flawed but more than enjoyable major label debut, Interventions and Lullabies. I had lost touch of them until recently, when I heard rumbles that they were working on a new record. After reading the letter, and the great adversity they received from their label Elektra to release it (the label didn’t-they eventually dropped the band); I knew that The Format had some songs that they wanted very much to be heard. The question that remained, though, was if the music was actually worth being heard? After all the heartbreak, the pain, and anguish to get this album made; was it really worth it?
The answer my friends, is yes. Yes, it is. Dog Problems is one of the best gems of indie-pop rock to ever be recorded. It’s a collection of driving, happy sing-alongs that you can’t help but fall in love with on the first listen. It’s a masterpiece from a band that, judging from their debut, you wouldn’t think capable of making a record that is this darn good. Their debut was promising, but Dog Problems makes good on that promise, and in spades. Every song oozes perfection and catchiness, but never in that annoying way. This is the type of record you could listen to for nearly ever; and never get tired of it. Look no further than the opening instrumentation of “Matches;” which has that simple, building, childishly innocent sound of a happy Saturday afternoon carnival to know full well that this isn’t the same band that made a splash back in late 2003 with the simple, catchy “The First Single (You Know Me).” This is a new band. This is a more mature band.
Dog Problems is the work of a couple of hard-working guys who have been through far more grief than they deserve. And, throughout it all, they kept resoundingly positive. This album is one of the most jovial I’ve ever heard. Heck; the tunes here make sugary hipsters The Thrills sound downright depressing. From the ridiculously awesome “Time Bomb,” to the bouncing, loose beat of the song you can’t help but sing-along to: “She Doesn’t Get It,” The Format are at not the top, but the epoch, of their game. When, on “Snails,” Nate sings: “Snails see the benefits / The beauty in every inch / Oh, why, why why why oh why / You’re quick to kiss / Baby, maybe, I spoke too soon / I’ll touch you once / You make the first move / Snails see the benefits.” It’s the small things, the simple connections that lead to limitlessly deep songwriting, which The Format has mastered to full hilt here on Dog Problems. This is a collection made up of sing-along tunes, in which, every time you sing along, you seem to find some new faucet of meaning. This is the type of record that many musicians strive their whole careers to make.
To The Format, I have this to say: congratulations, my friends. You’ve created what is sure to be a sleeper hit candidate on plenty of year-end-best lists this year; and deservedly so. Kudos.