Every dog has its day
With numerous side projects (the Rentals, Zee Malibu Kidz),guest appearances (Beck, Susanna Hoffs, Ben Lee), and solo albums (violinist Petra Haden's Imaginaryland), That Dog could provide MTV's 120 Minutes host Matt Pinfield--known for his near-obsessive between-video babblings about side projects and other band minutiae--with a welter of (wet) dream segues come true.

Throw in the band's music-biz families--singer-guitarist Anna Waronker's father is former Warner Bros. exec Lenny, and her brother is Walt Mink's Joey; Rachel and Petra Haden's dad is jazz legend Charlie, and their brother is Spain's son Josh--and That Dog could serve as the central link in a musical game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Try it with our own Old 97's: Anna's brother Joey played in The John Doe Thing with X's John Doe, who played in X with Exene Cervenka, who duets with Rhett and the boys on "Four-Leaf Clover" from the 97's' new album. Hours of family fun.

Clever attempts to show off research skills aside, That Dog's latest offering--Retreat From The Sun--is the band's most confident and unabashedly pop album to date. With producer Brad Wood on board, That Dog sounds more like a real band than ever before. Songs like new wave rave-up "Never Say Never" and dynamic "Gagged and Tied" contain muscle and a knack for pop songcraft only hinted at on that dog (1993) and Totally Crushed Out (1995).

Wood no doubt helped flesh out the band's notoriously half-finished arrangements, but don't credit the producer too much. Waronker's coming-of-age as a songwriter is the real star here, retaining few remnants of Totally Crushed Out's "why must I be a teenager in love" themes. Currently in a relationship with Redd Kross' Steve McDonald (who co-wrote "Gagged and Tied"), she's finally happy (or at least happier), and it shows.

Retreat From The Sun has a feel-good quality that shows that the band is finally comfortable in their own musical skin, toning down on the experimentation and restlessness of the past. The band's career could be likened to Luke Skywalker's transformation from daydreaming farmboy to Jedi Knight in the Star Wars trilogy: the first two installments show that there's something there, but it's not until the third that potential becomes the genuine article.

--Zac Crain

That Dog plays the Galaxy Club Thursday, July 3.


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