A fully-formed and deeply affecting personal voyage
Los Angeles-based rock band that dog. has returned after over twenty years with Old LP. Oftentimes, long breaks in music-making can lead to problems: a noticeable loss of artistic direction, songs that sound like an after-thought, or even full-length releases that feel more like a career bookend than anything remotely meaningful. The band opts for a different direction, coming back with the perfect project for a group that has spent many years away from the studio; one that confronts the passage of time, regrets and personal failures. The work of Anna Waronker and company on Old LP is superb, relatable and most importantly, extremely entertaining.
“Your Machine” introduces the storyline of the album very well, and acts as a great window into Waronker’s emotional state. Lyrics like “I am at your feet, I am at your mercy/ on the edge of my seat, believe me,” paint her as overly committed to a significant other and emotionally dependent. While the next track, “Just The Way,” is the weakest on the album, “Bird On A Wire” continues the theme with more fantastic writing about Waronker’s repeated romantic failures and shortcomings. Even the sloppy chorus and bizarre string arrangement choices on “Just The Way” can’t stop the momentum Waronker has already gathered in just the first three tracks.
The lyricism continues in “Drip Drops”, with the introduction of gorgeous vocal harmonies and much better string arrangements. The band opts for a harder-rocking style on the fifth track, “If You Just Didn’t Do It.” While the gang isn’t quite as successful with this approach as they are on the more muted tracks, the quality remains relatively high. This track offers a great point of view on Waronker’s frustrations with the actions of her significant other. The album reaches a turning point on the next track, “When We Were Young,” where it feels like the band begins adjusting to their unmet romantic expectations over super catchy rhythms, more great harmonies, and a strong sense of nostalgia. At this point in the project, the group is starting to learn from their flaws, rather than becoming frustrated, or just living with them.
The group marches on for the next four songs as the progress continues. The driving guitar and heart-wrenching lyrics on “Alone Again” and the vocal distortion and message of persistence versus independence on “Down Without A Fight” are highlights. On “Never Want To See Your Face Again” and “Least I Could Do,” Waronker’s efforts at personal growth come to fruition, and she overcomes all this turmoil. Unfortunately, the title track and album closer is a bit confusing. Lyrically, it’s perfect, but the instrumentation and overall sound of the track is very jarring and unlike the rest of the album; it’s difficult to make sense of it all when these four minutes sound so out of place.
Aside from a rough ending, Old LP succeeds through its stylistic diversity. Anna Waronker’s matter-of-fact lead vocals, lyrics, and crystal clear recording add an emotional clarity that makes the album hit close to home. Repeated front-to-back listens are more rewarding than usual due to the album’s beautiful story arc. Fortunately, the vast majority of the narrative concludes before the closer, and the many highlights make up for the regrettable track. Hopefully, fans won’t have to wait another 22 years for the fifth, that dog. album.