PONY - Velveteen

7 June 2023  •  Filed under

There’s absolutely no question about it: COVID is the worst, and the world would have been so much better off without its death & disruption. If one were to look for some semblance of a silver lining, though, one candidate may be the effect it had on music. The state of the world during the pandemic years—and lockdowns in particular—gave birth to new projects, prompted exploration, and amplified the pursuit of emotional expression. It’s a bittersweet gift.

I came across PONY via Softcult. The bands are besties: in addition to playing shows together, PONY vocalist Sam Bielanski stars in Softcult’s music video for “Dress”. But despite their connection to my favorite band, PONY’s songs just didn’t really elicit a second listen. To me, they sounded kind of one-dimensional.

That’s changed with Velveteen. Even as quarantine powered a shift in the band’s songwriting, an extended bout of insomnia brought out more thoughtful, existential lyrical content. But it’s the nostalgic sound of the record that does it for me: PONY’s revamped flavor of alt rock is big and varied and bright, leaning into tones that any 90s aficionado’s brain will easily bundle with the likes of Letters to Cleo, Matthew Sweet, or the more pop side of Veruca Salt. Their track-by-track breakdown reveals a respectable set of diverse influences as well: The Cure, The Smiths, Third Eye Blind, Hole, The Beatles, and more.

“Sunny Rose” is my favorite track, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Yes, it’s an earworm, but there was something else. Then I read what the band had to say about it1:

“The song is largely about trying your best when you’re feeling your worst, and hoping that no one notices that you’re struggling. I think sonically the song kind of conveys this feeling too, because it becomes more and more unhinged as it progresses.”

“It’s kind of a different feel from most of our songs. It swings and has these big dynamic shifts that took us outside of our comfort zone a little bit.”

Okay, relatable content much? Yes. But there it is: a subtle, out-of-sync feeling as the song reaches its end, weird vocal filters, and increasingly overlapping guitar & vocal layers. “Sucker Punch” is another track that does a similar thing, and both remind me of Juliana Hatfield’s double-tracked, intentionally disharmonious recording style—a kind of reckless, hazy, organic essence that is so rare in this click-tracked, snapped-to-the-grid musical age. Dang, it’s refreshing.

Bravo, PONY. Your influences have served you well. You have my attention.

  1. Mike Lesuer, PONY Walk Us Through Their Upbeat, Probing New LP Velveteen Track by Track, FLOOD Magazine

© Jared Christensen

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