On today’s episode of What Year is It?!?!?, we have that dog. and their first record in 22 years, Old LP.
Ah, the mid to late 90s. HUM and Matthew Sweet were in full stride, Reel Big Fish had sold out gloriously, Beck was in your head, the Odds were still together. But Belly had broken up, Boingo were gone, pop punk was getting huge, REM had begun their long slide, and fucking Oasis. Overall, it was…. a time. A little to the side of all that shit was that dog., a quartet of LA 20-somethings with killer harmonies, great pop hooks, a splash of punk noise, and a violin (and yeah, the name really is stylized to be lower case with the full stop. It was the 90s…). It was a little surprising that a band of their quirkiness was signed straight to 4AD and DGC, but then Anna Waronker (guitar, lead vocals) is the daughter of Lenny Waronker, who produced bands ranging from the Beau Brummels to Eels, and Rachel (bass) and Petra (violin) Haden are two of the triplet daughters of late jazz legend Charlie Haden (Tony Maxell rounded out on drums). Someone was going to give them a contract.
Anyway. that dog. put out three excellent records (self-titled in ‘93, Totally Crushed Out! In ’95, and Retreat from the Sun in ’97) then broke up and scattered into an assortment of solo projects and other bands. I had all three in my regular rotation through the mid-2000s and occasionally thereafter. Fast forward a couple of decades, and three quarters of that dog. have joined the re-formation scene to produce their fourth full-length, Old LP (Petra Haden elected not to participate). As Waronker says in “Just the Way”:
“I haven’t felt this way since 1995.”
First things first: Old LP has probably the best song that dog. have ever put on tape. “If You Just Didn’t Do It” is everything this band can be; wicked catchy chorus hook, just the right level of lyrical snark, smoothly pleasant harmonies, slight rhythmic shifts to vary up the verses, a beat designed for jumping up and down at the show. Waronker’s slightly nasal bored-annoyed delivery fits in fantastically, and her exasperated sigh just before the final chorus vamp is my personal favorite moment on the record. If you have no other interaction with Old LP or even that dog. as a whole, go listen to this song. Now. Really. I mean it.
Second things second: there isn’t a whole lot else there. “Just the Way,” also the first single, has some of the kick and spit of the self-titled record, but would largely be a B-level track on any of the 90s that dog. albums.
The title track, “Old LP”, is a legitimately moving tribute Waronker wrote after Charlie Haden’s memorial; you can hear the heartstrings as Anna and Rachel sing, “I guess I hate the fact that you’re not coming back… that I can’t hear your voice / unless it’s on an old LP.” The orchestral ensemble behind “Old LP” gives it musical weight without feeling cheesy, saying a bit about Waronker’s arranging skills.
But the rest of the album? Meh? I’ve put a good 6 listens into Old LP, on headphones and half the time reading along the lyrics, and I don’t think I could tell you the title of any other song without looking at the track list, let alone cough up a bit of a melody. There just isn’t much to separate these songs from each other. While there are strings-a-plenty there never emerges anything like the clean, soaring, sudden violin parts that Petra Haden brought to their earlier work. The choruses don’t stand out, the songs are placidly mid-tempo. I find I want to like most of the tracks, but just can’t find anything to dig my fingers into. It puts me in mind of the Belly reunion album, Dove; one stellar song (in Dove’s case it’s “Shiny One”) amongst a field of well crafted, unoffensive, on-brand songs that ultimately aren’t memorable in any way. It makes you sad, because you can see that they still have it even after all these years – just not quite enough of it.
Pros: “If You Just Didn’t Do It” is flat-out fucking amazing.
Cons: Most of the rest of it is meh.
Bottom Line: Put “If You Just Didn’t Do It”, “Just the Way”, and “Old LP” in your streaming library. If you want a that dog. LP, listen to an older one.