Published May 15, 2020When a dog runs away, it usually comes back. But sometimes it doesn't, and the possibility of that outcome can be paralyzing. Uncertainty exacerbates the fear of loss.
That's the metaphor that sets the tone for Runaway Dog, the highly energized album by Retirement Party. The followup to the Chicago trio's 2018 debut, Somewhat Literate, spends most of the time reflecting on things that are gone — family, friends, passions — but this is far from a solemn affair. The album leaps out of the speakers with booming, upbeat power-pop, and the band makes a way bigger racket than you'd ever expect a trio to be able to make.
Driven by the thundering rhythm of bassist Eddy Rodriguez, "Runaway Dog" revs up with palpable energy, leading off with singer-guitarist Avery Springer's titular analogy about trying to get her creativity back. "Compensation" expands upon that with a big, catchy tune about the traps and pitfalls of navigating the music business while trying to stay true to oneself. In these two songs, the band is at the top of their game. They're not necessarily representative of Runaway Dog as a whole, but they're a great showcase of what Retirement Party do best.
Compared to sonically and thematically similar albums released the same year by Worriers, Diet Cig and Ratboys, Retirement Party make their own mark with a sound that's earth-shakingly huge. It's casually, charmingly pulverizing. The mid-album track "I Wonder If They Remember You" lets loose on all fronts, with Springer's guitar whizzing around, James Ringness's drums crashing and clanging and Rodriguez's bass chugging along like the Terex Titan.
Underneath that controlled chaos are sober reflections on loss. With "Old Age," Springer reflects on the deaths of two people in her life, and how they gave her a new perspective on the human condition: "Lost some and it was more than just shedding weight / For a second in tune with everyone around you." Meanwhile, both the supremely cheery "Ebb" and the Promise Ring-style emo of "Fire Blanket" deal with the fallout of a friendship that didn't last. Instead of dwelling on loss, the band pushes forward and lets it inform a greater sense of empathy, compassion and appreciation. "Messed around with complacence but I'm better off now," Springer sings in the reserved outlier "Better Off Now."
Runaway Dog is loud, fun and thoughtful. It may not have the strength of songwriting to get crowds shouting every line from the back row, but the band ought to content those audiences by blowing the roof off the place either way. Retirement Party have yet to unlock their full potential, but their gigantic sound, potent pep and bright flashes of promise ought to be enough to win over fans now and in the years to come. (Counter Intuitive Records)