Toy (2017), the fourth LP from A Giant Dog and their second for Merge, shows the Austin quintet at the height of their powers. A solid year of road-dogging and woodshedding has made the band tighter than ever, the charging dynamo of Andrew Cashen and Andy Bauer’s guitars in lockstep with the primal chug of the rhythm section of Graham Low on bass and Daniel Blanchard on drums, in the latter’s recorded debut. Lead singer Sabrina Ellis turns in another masterful performance, in equal parts brash, defiant, vulnerable, and raw.
Lyrically, Sabrina and Andrew have a gift for making their personal frustrations and fuck-ups, fears, lusts, and addictions feel universal. While they have always given voice to the weirdos and creeps—showing that their peccadilloes and peculiarities are much more deep-seated and widespread—they dig even deeper on Toy. “I feel I’ve revealed more in this album than ever before,” Sabrina confesses. Still, the band doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of catchiness or charm when tackling issues like aging, agency, and mortality.
For proof, just look at “Photograph” (not the Nickelback song), the sweetest love song about physical longing and enduring devotion to one’s lover, even as their body succumbs to the ravages of time. Influences from Thin Lizzy to Tinariwen reveal themselves on the horn-heavy “Toy Gun,” within the string-laden core of “Fake Plastic Trees” (not the Radiohead song), and during the explosive conclusion to “Angst in My Pants” (yes, the Sparks song). The hunger is real on Toy; it’s not hard to believe Sabrina and Andrew when they proclaim, “I’m not a lover / I am a fight” on “Bendover.”
A Giant Dog recorded Toy with Grammy-winning engineer Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, Cat Power, The White Stripes, Reigning Sound), and singer/ songwriter/guitarist/wildman Cashen produced it. “Andrew as producer makes a lot of sense,” Sabrina says. “He composes the songs and knows better than anyone what they should sound like in the end. With him at the helm, we’ve arrived at a raw, truthful, risky, and rangy album.”