[16 August 2006]
As the temperatures rise and the beaches become crowded, you may find yourself subconsciously enjoying the light, feel-good strains of airhead summer radio pop. These songs float in and out of our minds throughout the season, yet somehow manage to disappear from consciousness when the leaves begin to fall. When this happens, you may be searching for something colder and more sullen to put on your stereo. This is the time to reach for Pony Up!‘s debut full-length, Make Love to the Judges with Your Eyes. Hailing from Montreal, this female four-piece is well acquainted with cold and darkness. Working with engineer Howard Ian Bilerman, who worked with considerably macabre indie sensations the Arcade Fire, Pony Up! has created an album that walks a line between gloomy emo and a more lasting, haunting pop sound.
Make Love to the Judges with Your Eyes opens with “Dance for Me”, the most immediately catchy of its songs. One of the album’s main problems becomes clear, however: singers Lisa Smith and Sara Moundroukas, though both sing quite nicely, lack personality in their vocals. Their straightforward approach lessens the songs’ impact and tends to be grating from time to time. “Dance for Me” is nonetheless a pop gem, with its new wave bounce and tongue-twister lyrics: “The parting of the double ruby pout of his lips / Seemed to exhale the air sweeter than it drew in…”
What ties the album together is the haunting piano that underlies the tracks, recalling recent work by the Rapture, as well as fellow hometown indies the Arcade Fire. The only departure from this is “Possible Harm”, an upbeat emo tune that would be more at home on a play list with the likes of Dashboard Confessional and Fallout Boy than with the album’s other tracks. This is the line Pony Up! is constantly walking: are they mature indie rockers or emo kids? “Pastime Endeavour”, a song about unrequited love, points to the latter, featuring typical lovelorn lyrics and lines like “I wanna make you so mad about me”. “The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Is That They Die)”, similarly has an unfortunate title that reflects the ham-handed gloom of radio favorites like My Chemical Romance.
The record continues with some run-of-the-mill break up tunes, with “What’s Free Is Yours” standing out as a highlight. “The Best Offence” and “Lines Bleed”, while not bad songs, are hindered by Smith and Moundroukas’ harsh, almost Alanis-like vocals. These songs would sound so much more fresh with a unique, eccentric voice at the helm, taking Pony Up! across that line into indie success. Make Love to the Judges with Your Eyes may not be the most original album by the most interesting band, but Pony Up! has something special they’re dying to say. Once they find the right voice to say it in, consider this band for your winter play list. They might be just the thing to cure summer lightheadedness.