As Canada gradually becomes the world capitol of indie pop, the Great White North might find its home to more worthwhile bands than it knows what to do with. Toronto's the Golden Dogs seemingly got a taste of what it's like to learn your credit score in rock isn't as high as you might hope when, after a long run of touring behind their 2006 album Big Eye Little Eye, they were dropped by their record label, and found themselves without a bass player when Stew Heyduk decided to settle down with his new bride in Hawaii. But a few bouts with adversity have, if anything, made the Golden Dogs a better band; their fourth album, 2011's Coat of Arms, is an eclectic and finely crafted set that finds this group stepping up with a dozen great new songs and playing them with enthusiasm, intelligence, and a welcome sense of aural adventure. The tunes on Coat of Arms, written by guitarist and founder Dave Azzolini, are clever and built around hook-laden melodies, and the band's approach in the studio is perfectly balanced, giving the songs a slight coat of polish that allows their virtues to shine through while sounding scrappy enough to reinforce their rock & roll credentials. The charging minor-key guitars and pummeling drums on "Travel Time" suggest a more tuneful variant on classic-era Sonic Youth (with a lyrical lift from Leonard Cohen for seasoning); there's an undertow of pure '70s swagger in the interplay of keyboards and guitars on "Dark Room" and "As Long as You Like"; the raunchy roar and nervous silences of "Old Hat" make for a spectacular closing number, and the arrangement on "When the Movie's Over" manages to sound grand and orchestral enough that you might not notice there aren't actually any strings on the track. Carlin Nicholson and Mike O'Brien of Zeus produced the album with the group, and they prove to be in excellent hands in the studio, giving the performances a clean, crisp sound that still sounds like a real band playing in real time, and the musicians -- especially Jessica Grassia on keyboards and Azzolini and Mike O'Brien on guitars -- don't miss a step. If the Golden Dogs aren't in the upper ranks of popularity on the Canadian indie pop scene, in terms of making a striking and thoroughly enjoyable album, they're close to the top of the heap, and Coat of Arms finds them coming back from a transitional period with all the strength, talent, and versatility you could ask for.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming