The Format

Dog Problems

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Tired of lamenting the split from a significant other locked in a dark room with Bright Eyes on repeat? Ready to turn that pain into a joyous singalong outside under the bright sun? Lucky for you, Arizona's the Format -- barely appearing phased at being dropped by Atlantic in 2005 -- have arrived with their self-released sophomore full-length, Dog Problems. Sure the album is mostly about singer Nate Ruess' most recent breakup and subsequent broken heart, but seriously, it's hands-down the feel-good album of the summer. After all, the heartache-induced lyrics of sarcasm and bitterness are in direct contrast to the sonic warmth emanating from every note-filled corner. Deftly elaborating on the sweet indie pop affair of 2003's Interventions and Lullabies, the guys have moved past straightforward ditties to craft songs that incorporate a wide range of instruments, tones, and occasionally, full-on orchestrations. "Time Bomb" immediately launches forth with exuberant vocal harmonies before the key-dancing chorus boogies to the front; the ironically catchy "The Compromise" -- which is the defiant result of Atlantic asking for a pop hit -- can be called radio-friendly in the best sense of the term. From a whimsical, carnival-esque air that appears sporadically throughout, the Format mix in horn sections, piano, banjo, handclaps and pretty much whatever else was lying around the studio when recording commenced. But every element is cleanly pulled off with such effortless charm, grace, and style that the songs in no way feel bogged down under the weight of the bands' ambition. The music never sounds forced or like the band is simply trying to be different through gimmicks; they've just matured into a new skin that fits as delightfully as their old. The Format were already showing obvious signs of being unable to write a bad song on Lullabies, but Dog Problems simply glows from beginning to end. It's like the music (both the gentle songs and high-energy ones) just can't help being fun and catchy, even if for some reason it didn't want to. The Format skirts cheesiness and cliché trappings by simply knowing how to make likable pop music that is entertaining and smart -- and they've absolutely never sounded better.

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