At Long Last, Anna Waronker Returns With Lovely California Fade

The 1990s are often remembered as the decade where grunge ruled the world, but in reality, the Seattle sound only really lorded over the beginning of the decade. The time before the turn of the millennium was dominated by nü-metal, and in between you had four or five years of weirdness. It's the time when dance music tried to take over rock, when Radiohead made OK Computer, when the Elephant 6 collective saw its creative peak and when a lot of odd little pop singles made it on the radio. If you were listening to rock radio around 1995, you were hooked up to tracks like Primitive Radio Gods' "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand," Butthole Surfers' "Pepper" and Presidents of the United States of America's "Lump." It was truly a thrilling (albeit confusing) time to be a fan of this strange thing called "alternative."

Somewhere in the middle there, That Dog emerged from the Southern California sunshine and dropped three albums' worth of woozy, punked-up New Wave. Lead by singer Anna Waronker, the band scored a few minor hits (notably "Old Timer," which had a video directed by Spike Jonze, and "Never Say Never," which was the band's highest charting track), but industry churn frustrated Waronker and the band broke up shortly after the release of their last album Retreat From the Sun in 1997.

Once the band faded out, Waronker worked on films (she wrote music for "Josie and the Pussycats"), did session work, wrote a stage musical about Linda Lovelace and started her own record label. Her first solo album Anna was solid, but her long-awaited follow-up California Fade is finally out, and it's an incredible blast of sweet California pop bliss. The title track is a groovy little shuffle that lets in just enough darkness to keep an edge, and it builds a delightful amount of melancholy amidst the subversive melody. "How Am I Doing?" mines a similar kind of vibe, with layers of weepy lilt layered over a chunky piano pump. There isn't any of that buzzsaw noise that her former band sometimes dove into, but it's a mature, unique approach to the classic singer/songwriter vibe. That Dog remain a profoundly underrated band, and Waronker's solo work deserves a profoundly large amount of attention.