"I haven't felt like this since 1995," Anna Waronker snarls at one point on Old LP, the first album from that dog. in 22 years. During that time -- nearly half of Waronker, Rachel Haden, and Tony Maxwell's lives -- the band's spiky yet vulnerable mix of punk, chamber pop, and singer/songwriter confessions shaped later generations of indie rock and pop artists. It's all the sweeter, then, that Old LP is a near-flawless blend of experience and exuberance. Though Waronker and Haden sound only a day or two older than they did on 1997's Retreat from the Sun, that dog.'s members have become more seasoned musicians since that album's release. They also made Old LP at a deliberate pace, writing a handful of songs each year after their 2011 reunion shows. All of the time invested in the album pays off richly: Their skill at being witty but not arch, emotional but not overwrought, and calling out hypocrisy wherever they see it has only become keener, largely because Waronker is an even sharper, more articulate songwriter. As she takes aim at how the past stays with us in lingering memories or dysfunctional behavior patterns, she rarely misses. One of her bull's-eyes is "If You Just Didn't Do It," a catchy dose of tough love to a friend trapped in a vicious cycle of mistakes. Elsewhere, that dog. capture middle-aged disappointment and regret just as eloquently as they captured youthful heartache and angst. The unflinching self-awareness of "Alone Again" could only come from decades of experience; beneath the honeyed harmonies of "Never Want to See Your Face Again" lie years of resentment. While that dog.'s clever songcraft and arrangements may not have been gritty enough for the grungy soul-baring of the '90s, they're a big part of why their music has aged so well -- and why Old LP sounds so good. "Bird on a Wire" is the kind of triumphant singer/songwriter pop they've always had in them, while orchestral touches like the sudden harp flourish on "Your Machine" feel like a logical -- and majestic -- extension of the strings on their previous albums. The band's fiery side also sounds better than ever on "Just the Way You Like It" and "Down Without a Fight," both of which hone their deadpan punk-pop to an even sharper point. Even on the album's fiercest songs, Waronker, Haden, and Maxwell sound thrilled to be playing together again, but they save Old LP's biggest thrill for the end. The album's title track -- which was inspired by a recording of Charlie Haden singing "Shenandoah" that was played at his funeral -- is a sweeping, joyous tribute to love, family, and music's power to connect us to people and times that have passed. It's the perfect ending to Old LP, a celebration of that dog.'s music that makes peace (or at least frenemies) with the past and proves, finally, that time is on their side.
Old LP Review
by Heather Phares