Hailing from Maine, Cerberus Shoal is a damn prolific group. The six-member group has released at least one album every year for the past 5, and when I heard that Mr. Boy Dog was going to be a 2CD, epic-length rumbler, I was excited to say the least. Previously, I'd enjoyed their improvised Elements Of Structure/Permanence soundtrack, and their Homb disc was an even more refined batch of their mix of post rock, ethnic music, and several other genres all thrown in a pot and stirred.
Because of the above, I'm left scratching my head after listening to Mr. Boy Dog. Despite the fun title that was inspired by 7 year old and very nice packaging, the release just doesn't find the group going in any new directions. Instead, it's a decent release that really didn't even need to stretch out to two discs (combined total of the two comes it at well under 70 minutes), and while the band indeed keeps a loose feel that in the past has worked to their advantage, most of the time on this disc it simply feels like 6 guys letting the reels run without many ideas that really gel.
The opening disc starts out with a minute-long track called "Round Valley" that basically just works out to the band members skronking around on their various instruments for four short segments. "Nataraja" picks things up decently on the second track with some tribal-sounding percussion and an octave step chorus on crunchy guitar and horns that works well, while the group just sort of falls back into "Camel Bell" before it picks up a bit near the end. "Tongue Drongue" comprises well over one-third of the entire front disc with an almost 13-minute running time, and it simply seems to wallow around without finding any real direction. In comparison, the improvised riffs on Elements Of Structure/Permanence feel much more inspired.
While the group has included vocals in the past, most of the time it's only been chanting or more guttural sounds, and their inclusion of actual lyrics and vocals on "Unmarked Boxes" is actually a nice highlight of the second disc. Starting out with a long, haunting intro, the track gradually builds in some nice percussion and guitars before the almost wailing vocals come in (which sound inspired by American Indian song). The disc closes out with another highlight, on the epic "An Egypt That Does Not Exist," in which the group alternately gently sways and rocks out. It's one of the heaviest sounding tracks that they've done to date, yet they weave a flute through the track (without making it sound too Jethro Tull) that keeps it nicely grounded.
In the end, I really wanted to like this disc, but instead of feeling like a groundbreaking epic for the group, it simply sounds like two short installments of things that they've already done before. Sure, some groups do that for a whole career and call it good, but this is a band that has innovated and expanded on every release that I've heard from them and with the expanses of 160 minutes of music at their disposal (on the 2CD format), that's what I expected them to do. If you're just getting into the group, it's still a decent place to start, but if you've heard them before, you'll probably find yourself a bit underwhelmed.