I’ve been thinking about what inspires the kind of active and creative (and these two words are essential) “fanaticism” that accompanied, say (probably the best example in recent memory of genuine poetic affinity), early Belle and Sebastian releases. It’s an interesting thought to chew over in a few spare moments if you have them, and I’ve concluded, rather simply, that it’s the magic of pop music to draw out a certain passion.
Pop encapsulates moments, makes legends for our future and past, and when a band does it with the kind of style, poetry and passion to draw a certain level of empathy, the listener exults, and troubadours set sail. Oh, to make them exult!
There have been many before B & S and many after who have alternately risen to the heights and fallen short of the kind of heady blueprint for modern pop set in the days of the Velvets, Hurrah!, Felt, Go-Betweens, Blue Orchids, etc., who themselves were among the first to break off from the dreary orthodoxy and follow R’n’b sources to new realms of emotional liberation. Pop has kept repeating and renewing itself since, and of course always will, but how do newcomers The Pony Collaboration rate in the mix? How “deep” do they run?
The Ponies’ sound is not revolutionary or immediately enrapturing. They don’t have that immediate voice to strike deep at the heart, and they’re not quite as clever and evocative with melodies and instrumentals as, say, Camera Obscura. But let’s face it who is? The Pony Collaboration evokes more humble haze than trembling stars, and certain tracks stand out strong in a set of low-key, slow-burning musing.
A highlight is If Your Love Dies, which has the soft romanticism of Hefner in a less outlandish incarnation, and also a strange orchestral beauty that enriches rather than contradicts. The dangers of orchestral pretensions married to lo-fi ethos are rife, and throughout the album TPC scale them pretty well, never really sounding over-produced. Another highlight is Giving Up the Ghost, which has the kind of weary regret we can all relate to from time to time and a touch of melodica that rides the percussion like a homesick spectre.
It’s a touch of folk and a touch of the blues that sits really well in TPC leader James Scallan’s pallet of faded colours, a touch that Slumming Expedition makes into more of a flourish, parping along as it does with dusty country edges into a atmospheric anthem of loss and hope. TPC have the knack of pushing the boat out just far enough as not to get carried away in choppy waters, and even if it does mean they’re more of The Beautiful South than the Magnetic Fields, it doesn’t matter.
A track I really like here is Dust, which bursts out of co-singer Claire Williams’ tear-speckled vocals into a sprawling track of orchestral folk grace and shimmer. Maybe Williams could have been used more throughout the LP, as she undoubtedly gives an extra melancholy texture, as on the really quite exquisite duet The Fast Lane, which is one to hang out at the front of your Spring mixtape, strolling in the sun as a does with a tinge of love and doubt in a really quite special manner.
More of this kind of stuff and we’d be really shouting from the rooftops. As it is, we merely have some new melodies that’ll fit snugly into our lives, as we continue to kiss someone else with our utmost passion. The pop landscape remains relatively unthreatened, but TPC stand in elegant pastures, waiting for the eruption.