That Dog: Retreat From The Sun (1997)

On the occasion of That Dog's return from a brief break (i.e. 22 years), with a new album that I haven't had a chance to dig into yet*, here's a look back at one of my favorite noise-pop albums of the 90s, a delightful blend of indie rock energy and savvy, lyrically punchy power pop, highlighted by the heart-on-her-sleeve vocals of songwriter Anna Waronker (with terrific harmonies from multi-instrumentalist sisters Petra and Rachel Haden).

While That Dog's earlier albums had a bit of a punkier, harder edge, Retreat puts more focus on the pop hooks, offering a number of simply delightful and impossibly catchy tunes.  Which isn't to say the band sounds slick; at times they have the raw guitar sound and biting unadorned vocals of Liz Phair's earlier work (not entirely surprising given that Brad Wood produced both artists).  But with some of the more abrasive edges sanded down, the amazing hooks really get a chance to shine.

My two favorite songs on the album, as infectious today as when I first heard them, are a pair of geography-based crush songs.  "Minneapolis," the quieter of the pair, finds her falling for a guy at an LA rock club ("I was at the Jabberjaw, cutest boy i ever saw, he was standing behind me, he was such a dream"), only to discover he lives far away in the titular city; while the insanely joyous "Long Island" has her crushing on a boy from even farther away ("You're pretty dreamy for a boy from Long Island, you should come to see me on my
Western horizon... I want to set a place for you at my table, we can sit forever watching reruns on cable...").

But those twin monsters are surrounded by plenty of other nifty ditties.  "Never Say Never" is classic 90s alt.rock, something out of the Weezer or Letters to Cleo playbook, punchy pop with crunchy guitars and synths (but, being That Dog, also violin solos); the album's title track is a boppy mid-tempo number full of winning la-la-las; and "Every Time I Try" is a lovely ballad with terrific harmonies and a breathtaking hook.  Frankly, the hit ratio here is crazy, making it all the more sad when they disappeared from the scene not long after it was released.

Here's the great video for "Never Say Never":
And here's the recently re-formed band with a live take on "Long Island":

*BTW, as I was writing this, I took a gym break and streamed the new album, Old LP.  On first listen, it's pretty damn good, as if they hadn't taken any break at all and picked up right where they left off.  The first single, "Just The Way," is fizzy punk-pop with a killer chorus (and a great video, featuring Rachel Haden's brother-in-law Jack Black, as well as Maya Rudolph, in a joyfully twisted Three's Company parody); and the closing title track is a wonderful ballad, one of the sweetest things I've heard in a long time.  Here's the new video:
Second postscript:  I have now listened to the title track on the new album a half dozen times, and holy shit if it's not the best song I've heard all year.  Here's an interesting documentary on the making of the song (or you can just skip to the song itself at 6:10 into the video):

And here's the new album:

Alas, Petra Haden sits out the new album, but continues to work on her own projects.  My personal favorite is an a capella tribute to The Who Sell Out, with Petra singing all the vocal parts AND all the instrumental parts. It's amazing!