Retreat From The Sun

Band: that dog.
Album: Retreat From the Sun
Best song: “Never Say Never” is great. “Long Island” rocks.
Worst song: “Until the Day I Die” doesn’t really fit on the record, but maybe that’s the point? I don’t know.

I guess Netflix is bringing back (some of) the cast from That 70s Show for a new series next month about the 1990s. I will not watch it, though not because I have any animus for the producers, cast or even the 1990s, as a decade. I just don’t watch much TV.

I was born in 1981, so the 1990s were my teen years. I don’t know if the show will cover it, but any decade is hard to pin down; the 1990s featured both Destiny Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” It was both the decade in which rap broke into the mainstream and the transition from hair metal – Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” were both released in 1990 – to grunge to nü metal (Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” was released in ‘99). The internet and deeper commercial globalization became a part of our lives, changing life forever.

To some extent, the proliferation of stuff is what defined the decade and everything after. Someone smarter than I should probably write this, but my snap analysis is that globalization and the communications revolution made everything easier to make and easier to buy. Technology made things smaller and more efficient and easier to ship. Thus, the world got smaller and we saw more of it.

While I say this with lament, I don’t know that there is a way out. There are many downsides to having 24-hour anything, least of all media stimulation and consumption. The upsides are certainly valuable in my business and for convenience, but it goes somewhat without saying that my brain has been completely ruined by this process and I was born before widespread internet usage. I wonder what it’s like for people born in, like, 1999.


With all the talk of “nepo babies” and the broadly stupid conversation that comes with it – Kelsey McKinney has a wonderful analysis of it on Defector – that dog. probably merits a mention. The band came from 1990s L.A. and from, well, big-time music people. Frontwoman Anna Waronker’s dad Lenny was the president of Warner Bros. Records for years and later the co-chair of DreamWorks Records. Rachel and Petra Haden are the children of Charlie Haden, who just happened to be the bassist in the Ornette Coleman Quartet. Music royalty, essentially.

What kind of doors did that open? I don’t know. The 1990s were the “end of music” in the Fukuyama sense; Steve Albini’s classic takedown of the industry in 1993 was outdated 15 years later, but it was pretty current when that dog. was coming up. But, they also were a group of white kids doing power pop in a market that was somewhat reluctant to embrace it. Maybe those connections were what got them in the door. It certainly didn’t hurt.

I say this partially because I remember the tenuous connections to other bands as part of the marketing. When the record came out, I was pretty into – as much as a depressed dial-up internet teen can be – tracking this stuff and the band was often compared to Liz Phair (go Trevs), which tracks insomuch as Retreat From the Sun was produced by Phair’s producer Brad Wood. You can hear it in the title track’s guitar sound and the layered, wall of sound-style outro. But, the album also sounded more like Big Star or maybe Weezer (to whom they were also compared) than it did Beck (Anna Waronker’s brother Joey played drums for Beck) or Elastica (to whom that dog. was often compared) or Sleater-Kinney.

Was this simply misogyny? It’s hard to argue against that notion, of course, as the record has some fuzzy grunge guitars in songs like “Minneapolis” and real riff work in “Never Say Never” and “Long Island.” More than anything, the harmonies reflect the nepo baby shit insomuch as the 1960s pop music is reflected in the vocal group work that the Hadens and Waronker ace on the record. But it also shows that the 1990s were really weird and bands got lumped together all under the “alternative” category, no matter if they had nothing similar other than a record label and a frontperson’s gender, a la Hole and that dog. (also, that dog. toured with Jawbreaker in the 1990s. It was a strange time in music).


The 1990s were weird, though, and Retreat From the Sun reflects that. I’d first heard of the band because of the DGC Rarities compilation, on “Grunge Couple” kicked my ass. Sorta like Nada Surg’s “Popular,” “Grunge Couple” is somewhat between a parody song and an anthem. But, more than anything, it’s that dog. at their raucous best, a mostly instrumental that plays with dynamics, dirty vocals and third Haden triplet Tanya’s string work.

“Did You Ever” comes closest to “Grunge Couple,” both in its construction and its dirtiness, but Wood’s sheen is never far from the production, overtaken by the vocal harmonies. Waronker’s songwriting is clean and lovely; she has since scored or music directed a bunch of movies and TV shows. Nowhere is that more evident than the lead single “Never Say Never,” which takes as much from the 1990s one-hit wonders like the bass-driven “Possum Kingdom” as it does from the lush 1970s layered production that Waronker’s dad oversaw. As mentioned above, it has a hard-driving riff that’s echoed not just in guitars, but in 70s-style vintage keyboards and vocals. It is the song that Weezer wish they wrote, but never did.

In that way, Retreat From the Sun is unique to its period in its ability to vary and combine different elements from the period. It’s a great record and one I was happy to revisit.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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