Starting out covering bands like AC/DC and The Ramones at school dances in their hometown of Austin, Texas, singer Sabrina Ellis, drummer Orville Neeley and guitarist/vocalist Andrew Cashen found their love for the music.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that they reformed, recruiting second guitarist Andy Bauer and bassist Graham Low to complete the line-up of the newly named A Giant Dog. After years of rocking venues in Austin and later blowing the roofs off venues in other parts of America, A Giant Dog are back with their third LP – Pile.
After a majestic but somewhat creepy and unnerving intro, a feedback screech propels the album in to its first song “Creep“. With high velocity drum fills powering their way through the distorted guitar thickness and grooving bass lines oozing their way in and out of the mix, this sounds like something that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pixies album. It certainly has that energetic approach that crams as much action in to three minutes as possible. As singer Sabrina Ellis proclaims “I’m a creep”, it is evident that this music is powered by angst and passion.
“Hitchhike Love” is brought in by a raw sounding bass line, soon followed by an alt rock/indie influenced guitar lick, sounding like something straight out of the early noughties. The song then smoothly transitions into its verse in which the vocals take lead role in carrying the song – acting as a driving force and showing no signs of braking. Clocking in at just over two minutes, this song is best described as a musical burst of raw energy. This is much the same as the next song “Sleep When Dead“, again substituting length and technicality for a much more compact slice of rock mayhem.
Next up is “Sex & Drugs“, which introduces a new instrument to the fold. This song maintains that high octane speed but does so with the use of a piano, creating a very different mood to the previous songs. As Ellis repeats “I can’t even remember being young” as the songs comes to an end, it is becoming more and more obvious how the in your face attitude and honest approach can enhance the music.
The follow on to this song, aptly titled “& Rock & Roll“, continues down the same path. Sounding less indie noughties, less Pixies and more Dolly Parton, this song has an enjoyable skip to it and an easy sing along chorus making it the most pop oriented song so far. The angst ridden passion seems to have been replaced here by more optimistic vibes.
The next song “Jizzney” once again changes the direction and mood of the album. Like “& Rock & Roll”, it can be argued that this falls into the pop category much more than the first few tracks but this time it sounds less forced and far more natural. It is smooth, easy listening that even the casual listener could get on board with.
It is short lived however, as next track “Not A Miracle” returns to the place where the album began. With more guitars churning through the noise of the huge drum sound, this song is another rock n roll footprint that continues to pick up momentum as the seconds rush by. Sounding like old, battered guitars plugged into dusty, equally old amps and turned up to the max, the sound here is real raw intensity.
“King Queen” once again has that old sounding approach, reminiscent of something you might hear in a New York diner. It has that galloping piano at the forefront with the vocals, with the rest of the instrumentation in the shadows providing a steady back beat. It is a strikingly different to other songs like “Creep” and “Hitchhike Love” and the mixing of these two styles on one album is certainly interesting.
Fuzzy bass walks up and down alongside the stiff, solid guitar strums as the metronome is kept by hi hat and rim shots at the start of “I’ll Come Crashing“. Rolling snare fills take the song in to its big chorus where a feeling comfort and ease is transmitted by the band.
It seems as though this is what they do best and this song is definitely an album highlight. “Birthday Song” sits after “I’ll Come Crashing” and feels somehow like an afterthought. It has some great tom fills from drummer Orville Neeley and maintains the energy but lacks the hooks and substance of the aforementioned song.
Next song “Seventeen” is, apart from the intro, the shortest song on the album at just one minute and fifty seven seconds. In less than two minutes the band recaptures that spark and again has that Pixies sound here, particularly in the chorus. There’s not much more to be said about this one, it is what it is – an alt rock/indie song that says what it needs to say in less than two minutes.
This song transitions straight into the faster paced “Too Much Makeup“, which like “Creep” is full of huge drum fills, distorted guitars and lush bass fills in every gap possible. Vocals reach peaks in a celebratory way that shows the lack of worry and perfection needed in this sort of music, instead focusing on feel and honesty. If this is going to be how they sing and play it in the studio, this is bound to be exactly what they do live perhaps with even more passion and enjoyment.
“Get With You And Get High“, the penultimate song, takes a more subtle approach and slows down the pace a bit. With luscious acoustic guitars providing the main backing, Ellis and Cashen’s vocals join forces to send a simple, obvious message. There is no hiding what this song is about – it is in the title and it is sung multiple times in the song. Surprisingly this low key, quiet acoustic song sits quite well amongst the other tracks and positioning it at the end of the album seems like the best way to have done it, leaving room for one more big rock song.
“Failing In Love” closes the album with more of what the band seems to do best and that is write lively songs that are short and punchy. Expect more of what “Creep”, “Hitchhike Love” and “Too Much Makeup” had to offer with this song. Ending bizarrely like the album opened with the creepy intro, we hear atonal sounds presented in a messy, chaotic way which when thought about at the end of the album, does well in representing this music and this band. They are not pretending to be perfect and don’t use any flashy production techniques.
If it needed a label, this music would best be described as garage rock. It can easily fall under the umbrellas of alternative rock and indie rock as already mentioned, as well as other genres on top but what it really sounds like is a few friends getting together, plugging the instruments in and just playing. This is something which, regardless of what many may think, still happens all over the world but to hear it laid down on record and presented in this way is great to hear.
In a time of mass music production, where the competition to sound the most perfect and clean is often present, to put out a record so raw and honest, like A Giant Dog have with Pile, is a definite victory for any band. Pile is out now via Merge Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Ben Hughes