On last year's debut album, Laced With Romance, The Ponys burst out of Chicago like a magnificent Clydesdale, driven out of the garage by monstrous, Who-via-Guided-by-Voices power chords, plus the infectious vocals of mumbly, spastic Jared Gummere and change-of-pace, girlish-sounding guy Ian Adams. Hot on the heels of that very good start, the band has thrown a neat curveball with the "difficult" second album, the Steve Albini-recorded Celebration Castle.
Notice is immediately served that The Ponys are racing on a whole new track via the flamenco-esque introductory guitar strums of album opener "Glass Conversation," which finds Gummere arguing with himself in front of a mirror while his bandmates play around and through his gypsy-ish guitar, building to a noisy climax through Adams' incessant soloing. "Another Wound" brings the listener back to more familiar turf, albeit with a somewhat surprising new-wave cast to the guitars. Good as this opening 1-2 punch is, neither track matches the strutting brilliance of "Today" the singer celebrating the frustrations of being young, broke and fabulous in the city, the swaggering chorus bringing fond memories of younger years gone by.
Things get all gothy on the very serious-sounding "We Shot the World," which
enters with a simple guitar riff that seems to sing "love will tear us apart"
a notion reinforced by a brief moment of spacey keyboard straight off of Joy
Division's Unknown Pleasures and an early lyric going "'Cuz you know you'll
never tear us apart." Adams and bassist Melissa Elias robotically chant "we
shot the world" while Gummere shouts the chorus back at them; spidery guitars,
gloomy piano and tribal drumming add to the surreal spookiness. The picture is
decidedly lighter on the careless "Discoteca" and the summer-celebrating "Get
Black," which implore you (literally) to dance all night long.
Part of what makes this album work so well is that Gummere is willing to cede
the mic to other bandmembers whose contributions contrast nicely with his own
vocals. "She's Broken" finds Elias in muted voice on
the verses and whooping maniacally on the choruses, her bandmates' strong guitars
and Nathan Jerde's rhythmic onslaught on the drums elevating the track. Adams
shines on his two contributions, the Big Star-ish power pop "I'm With You" and
the desperately straining "Shadow Box."
Where album three will take The Ponys is anyone's guess, especially with Adams' departure from the band at the end of last year leaving Gummere without his main foil. For now, I'm going to take the band's advice and enjoy summer in the city while dancing all night long to Celebration Castle.