A Giant Dog
Toy (Merge Records)
Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., Aug. 25, 2017
Nine years and four albums through their career – and presently two LPs into a deal with North Carolina super indie Merge Records – A Giant Dog's modus operandi is well-established. Lines between punk, glam rock, and art-pop running like watercolors in a pre-K classroom, the local fivepiece soundtracks much off-Broadway high drama grounded by guitarist Andrew Cashen and lead spectacle Sabrina Ellis' Siamese Twin lead vocals and superior songcraft dealing with messy twenty-(now thirty-)something lives. That's served them well, but nearing the decade mark in any group generally means it's time to fuck with the formula.
For starters, Toy breaks with Mike McCarthy, producer of last year's Pile and the debut long-player by A Giant Dog sister act Sweet Spirit, Austinites also led by Cashen and Ellis. Enter Stuart Sikes, helmsman of game-changing records for luminaries including the White Stripes, Modest Mouse, and Reigning Sound, who worked with Los Lobos' Steve Berlin on Sweet Spirit's recent sophomore disc St. Mojo. Play the latter back-to-back with Toy and you'll hear Sweet Spirit absorbing A Giant Dog's pummeling punk energy even as A Giant Dog reaches for Sweet Spirit's broad gestures and more experimental bent.
For the most part, Cashen/Ellis chafe against messy living. "Fake Plastic Trees," possibly rock & roll's first tune to name-check Whataburger, effectively eviscerates young slackerdom in a lyric reading like a Facebook status update: "I've never had a car to drive, but I've got shit to do today/ Can someone please give me a ride?/ It's on the way." Likewise, "Photograph" strips away any bar romanticism that might exist in a one-off screw, singing of wanting to "see you with your saggy tits" and "kiss you when your teeth are brown." Eight songs in, influences puff out their chest on a cover of Sparks' New Wave classic "Angst in My Pants," done more in the Maels' rockin' mid-Seventies style.
Toy doesn't dog-Pile its predecessor, and in eschewing a straight-ahead continuation of the same-ol', A Giant Dog continues marking distinctly new territory.