Worth a Thousand Words: Toy by A Giant Dog
Toy by A Giant Dog:
Certainly Not “Toy”ing Around
Released: August 25, 2017
Label: Merge Records
If you’re not familiar with A Giant Dog’s work, do yourself a favor and introduce yourself. Bright, poppy punk rock from Austin, Texas, A Giant Dog is equal parts welcoming and scary, quite fitting given their namesake. This fourth installment in their discography, Toy, melds together two different sides of the band’s personality: Their brand of sometimes brash, in-your-face pop punk rock that I’ve come to love, and a quiet, more sensitive side that touches on the everyday struggles of life in the modern age.
Frontwoman Sabrina Ellis comes across as many things to me based on the lyrics she sings and from the performance she puts on in music videos and recordings: She’s down to earth, honest, fed-up, frustrated, and most important and amazing to me, freaky. All those attributes, contributed by just herself or the band as a whole, form a unique profile that’s both complex and carnal at the same time. For the most part, A Giant Dog’s discography has consisted of screeching guitars and lightning-fast tempos that accompany lyrics that verge on obscenity; they embody and embolden the pop punk rock aesthetic. Toy, while still holding near those attributes, instead marks not so much a turning point for the band, but more of a course correction. Whereas before their sound may have been too bold and brash for the average, unacquainted listener, the band has started to develop their sound to be more consumable without becoming sellouts. But if you like their previously raunchier songs, fear not, because they’re still present on this record too.
Let’s look at how their new sound has developed, starting with the opening portion of this album. Instead of launching headfirst into a sonic wall of sound, a computerized voice counts us in to a gentle rock rhythm that could easily see play on a radio. But it’s not until you look and listen closely to the lyrics that you can see the charm of A Giant Dog. Take the opening track, “Get Away,” for example:
“Freight-train female, natural disaster, adrenaline rage make the brain go faster... cheap sunglasses, rip 'em off your sideburn, burn the wooden ship you built into a bottle...”
A real dog may come across as cute, but under the facade of all that fuzz, there’s always some bite. And therein lies the beauty of A Giant Dog as a band; they’re transforming their brand ever so slightly by turning down the loudness a touch and turning up the lushness. This album has many peaks and valleys, tempo-wise; it builds up the ante through the first two songs, which have a quieter tone to them, both physically and thematically. We reach a peak at “Bendover,” follow a plateau for the next few tracks, and then settle back down, all to then complete the cycle a few more times across the album.
I think we need to talk about how the band has stayed in tune with their original sound on this album, mainly by touching on a couple of adult topics: from making ends meet on “Lucky Ponderosa,” to violence on “Toy Gun,” and, most prominently, sexuality, which is present in more than one track. Hailing from Texas, a predominately conservative state, the band does everything in their power to challenge the beliefs held by that majority and instead champion for openness and individuality. Perhaps the most jarring but relatable way they accomplish this is through the overt sexual tone that’s present on a good majority of this album. They utilize this theme in such a way that it adds to the experience instead of taking you out of it. In my opinion, some songs include racy lyrics as a way to get attention; you perk up and have your attention drawn to a phrase or word that’s being used to elicit a response and be “edgy.” But A Giant Dog uses sexuality in their songs as a medium through which to communicate with us. Sure, more prudential ears may not enjoy those lyrics. But for some, hearing Sabrina vocalize about embracing sexuality as a source of shared, continuing love on “Photograph” could potentially inspire confidence and hope between couples:
“...I wanna see you with your sagging t*ts, I wanna see you with your jeans all split, I wanna kiss you when your teeth all rot, and all your memories are things we thought...”
In my mind, that’s an expression of love that transcends physical beauty and old age, and it’s a promising message. Sexuality can also be wielded as power, both shared or singular, as evidenced by "Bendover:"
"Infatuation has got its claws. And you're a fighter, you never pause. You got your instincts when you attack. Then you bend over and flex your back..."
Some people feel a sense of pride knowing that they look good to themselves and/or to others. The final way A Giant Dog uses sex on Toy to communicate and relate with us can been seen on "Angst In My Pants." While the title may not be so clever, the band's delivery of their message is sincerer:
"Oh when you think you made it disappear, at times you get a lone feeling, you've got angst in your pants. Hope that it doesn't show...it's just a passing phase...give it a hundred years, it won't go away..."
I feel like they're talking about the natural sexual tension that all young adults feel at some point, that they may not fit in or how to properly act or react in certain situations. The band is there to let us know that it's a part of life that everyone has faced at some point or another, and that it is totally okay to still be going through it no matter where you may be at in your own life currently.
Music is one of the great unifiers; most if not all cultures have music, so we can all relate to one another through this shared experience. It is also a great tool that can be used to discuss contemporary ideas, and in today's current climate open and honest communication is key. I feel like A Giant Dog kept this in mind when they created their fourth record, and all of their previous music for that matter. This past summer, I fell head over heels into the pop punk rock genre, and this band was one of my favorites, due in part to their sound but also the message that their music delivered. I’m excited to see what they produce next; I hope they continue to follow their hometown’s unofficial motto: keep being weird, embrace who you are, and be proud of yourself. And as a side note, if you listen to other work from A Giant Dog, but may not like their intensity, I’d have to suggest that you check Sabrina Ellis’ second band Sweet Spirit, which is essentially a slightly toned-down version of A Giant Dog that still matches their intensity.
The Final Cut:
Favorite Track: “Bendover”
Ratings: (Based on a scale from 1 to 10, 0 – Hated It, 1 – Extremely Disliked, 2 – Greatly Disliked, 3 – Moderately Disliked, 4 – Slightly Disliked, 5 – Neutral, 6 – Slightly Enjoyed, 7 – Moderately Enjoyed, 8 – Greatly Enjoyed, 9 – Extremely Enjoyed, 10 – Loved It)
Length: 9¸ Coming in at 40 minutes, just under the typical length of a full LP, Toy paces itself well, but still makes 40 minutes feel like it flies by.
Mixing: 10, For a punk rock album, everything sounds very crisp to me on this record. The wild cymbal crashes and high-hat hits don’t get lost in the low boom of the bass, and the lead vocals are clear over all of the underlying sound.
Lyrical Composition: 8, While I praise the message that is being delivered by most of this album, there are a few tracks where the band just repeats the same lyrics over and over, lacking some of the depth that I appreciated on their previous albums.
Organizational Flow: 8, As I mentioned in my review, this album has a pattern of rising and falling in tempo a couple of times while it runs its course. This alternation kept my attention for the length of the record and kept everything feeling fresh.
Overall “Sound”: 8, I would rank this album near the top in my list of favorite albums from the group. I enjoyed it most of the way through, and I can appreciate that they’re trying to modify their sound a little bit. Overall, Toy sounds like it fits in with the rest of A Giant Dog’s discography, but certainly marks a change for the group.
Total Rating: 8.6/10
 Cashen, Andrew and Sabrina Ellis. Get Away Lyrics. 27 August 2017. Website. 15 December 2018. <https://genius.com/A-giant-dog-get-away-lyrics>.
 Cashen, Andrew and Sabrina Ellis. Photograph Lyrics. 27 August 2017. Website. 15 December 2018. < https://genius.com/A-giant-dog-photograph-lyrics>.
 Cashen, Andrew and Sabrina Ellis. Bendover Lyrics. 27 July 2017. Website. 15 December 2018. < https://genius.com/A-giant-dog-bendover-lyrics>.
 Cashen, Andrew and Sabrina Ellis. Angst In My Pants Lyrics. 27 August 2017. Website. 15 December 2018. < https://genius.com/A-giant-dog-angst-in-my-pants-lyrics>.