That Dog Fetches A Pop-Punk Sound

Ah spring, when a young songwriter's fancy turns to love. With the release

of their third LP, That Dog's singer-songwriter-guitarist Anna Waronker

traverses that dangerous area with admirable ease. That Dog's unusual

combinations of violin and guitar, and harmonies and dissonence have

always set the group apart from the rest of the pop-punk pack, but on

Retreat From The Sun the band draw nearer to their peers in pop as

the songs sport lusher guitar parts and overall a more produced and

mainstream sound. Working with producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt)

the band created an album of pretty straightforward pop ditties, dabbling

in the peppy wistfulness that comes along with crushes, one of Anna's

favorite topics.

It would seem that Anna Waronker is in love with being in love. That Dog's

1995 album, Totally Crushed Out, gave us a hint of what was to come

and now Retreat From The Sun gives full evidence of the fact. From

the lyric sheet it can be gleaned that ten out of the thirteen songs on

the album are about being in and out of love. Not that this makes for

boring listening. In fact it's kind of nice to hear about some one else's

mundane love experiences instead of having to mope about your own. This

isnt soap opera gooey drawn out love either. It's quick and earnest and

above all real. Love-- sometimes attainable, sometimes not, but whatever,

either way it's still around to torment us.

The album opener, a fine pop song titled "I'm Gonna See You", is my

favorite. Yes, it's about being in love, but according to Anna it's "a

love song to the band." ("We'll have lots of love, the both of us, and

none of the above-the-waist activity.")

It starts with unusually tuned guitars weaving out a measured tune; then

the rest of the band comes in working together with a harmonious

sing-along vibe that recalls summer camp and such. The chorus is the best

part: "I'm gonna see you in the morning / I'm gonna see you when you're

uptight / I'm gonna see you when you're boring / I'm gonna see you every

night."

It's sweet and but not unrealistically so. Throughout all the crushes,

Anna's still got one foot on the ground.

The violin work of Petra Haden is an element that is a little less evident

here than on past albums, but it really stands out on the last track,

"Until I Die". I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this. Granted, the

jagged violin is signature That Dog and excitingly different and cool.

However, on the other hand, it's this same violin that might make a person

give the band a couple of listens and then swear off them forever. It can

be cool, or it can be grating, depending on what you like. Being a noise

person myself, I was a bit saddened by the violins being less in the

forefront than on previous releases, but being a rational creature, I also

see the benefit of this, as I can play the new That Dog album as many

times as I like without driving my roommate from the room.

The guitar work on the album is fairly impressive as it shows a real

develpoment and maturation in both Anna's playing and songwriting

abilities. Previously, That Dog guitars worked in two modes: clean or

mildly distorted. But on Retreat From The Sun the range of flange

is much more varied and there are even hints of greater studio glories in

the form of horns, strings and synths.

Driven by Tony Maxwell's punkster drums, That Dog emerge from their

quirky, arty shell and slap us in the face with a pop album fit to give

birth to a radio hit. And this hit might very well be the album's second

track, "Never say Never", scheduled to be the first single. Could that be

a moog in the background? Totally new wave.

Another heavily crushed out song is "Minneapolis". Apparently a recounting

of a true story, it contains a tinny solo and a rock & roll bass line

pounded out by Rachel Haden. "I was at the Jabberjaw / the cutest boy I

ever saw / he was standing behind me / he was such a dream."

No review could be complete with out mention of the background vocals and

three-part harmonies that are laid on thick throughout the album. In fact,

maybe the vocals in general need to be described. Anna has a voice that,

while bordering on bratty, gives one the pleasant feeling that they could

sing along and not embarass themselves. Slightly nasal yet far from

annoying, Anna sounds pretty normal. The backup vocals are in a league of

their own. Harmonies to the extreme and lots of oohing ahhing and la

la-ing you either like or you don't. There really isn't any in between.

One has to be careful when recommending Retreat From The Sun. It is

acessible to lots of people because of the lyrical content and the punk

contingent, but it's also much poppier than punk, but not quite easy

listening. Basically, if you liked 1993's That Dog and 1995's

Totally Crushed Out than you'll like Retreat From The Sun.

If you're new to the band, you'll probably either love or hate them upon

first listen. If you're reaction is the latter, don't be too hasty to

write them off. In a few days, you'll probably find yourself humming one

of the songs and then wishing you hadn't sold the CD because all you want

to do is hear that song one more time, and why isn't it ever on

the radio? At the very least you'll find one song that you really like

and you can tape it on repeat before you sell the CD. If you like the

album, then you'll probably love it and buy the other two immediately,

start your own band and become a rockstar. How's that for incentive?