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
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
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?