The first five seconds of “Rome” sound like something straight off Murmur (the song’s title does have the letters R.E.M. in it, yes?), but as soon as the floating synthesizer enters, sounding spookily like a voice, and the easy-flowing yet complex rhythm takes hold, I feel myself transported into some different if equally mysterious sort of place. Bassist Nancy Urich, singing lead here, offers a slightly distant, semi-transparent vocal style that both pulls us in and keeps us at a distance, while the band’s seemingly foggy sensibility disguises a grand capacity to burn and churn (see the extended coda, that starts around 3:48, for a glimpse of it).
There’s a lot going on here, but the central compelling feature on display, to my ears, is the fluid use of shifting time signatures. The verse appears to be constructed of three measures of 6/8 time plus one measure of 8/8 (that’s my guess, anyway); the chorus offers standard 4/4 time, yet with seamless transitions. Listen to how the recurring guitar line, which shepherds us through the 6/8 measures, adapts itself without a hitch to 4/4 time as well (compare the music that begins at 0:16 to 1:16, for instance). Or, for a particularly simple yet inventive shift, check out the break that begins around 3:06: it’s just a straight, unadorned drumbeat; somewhere along the way we go from four to six beats but there’s no way to tell exactly where.
Dog Day is a two-boy, two-girl quartet from Halifax. “Rome” is from the band’s new album, Concentration, to be released next month on the Canadian label Outside Music.