Pony Up Make Love to the Judges with Your Eyes
There were plenty of all-girl bands like Pony Up in the '90s, and most of them were worse. Lots on K Records, especially—the worse ones, I mean—where cutie-pie feminism too coy to choose sides was met more than halfway by a scene that cherished amateurism as the ultimate in political principle. But while those forebears flaunted their arrested development, this Montreal quartet has quickly outgrown the charming shuffle and wheedle of its 2005 self-titled EP. For sure, this year's "I've never felt more alone/Than when I'm in your arms" is no more mature (or original) a sentiment than last's "Oh Matthew Modine/We want to be your blowjob queen." But as Sarah Moundroukas plinks her pert guitar bits around and between Laura Wills's moody piano runs, and as each of the four small voices finds its individual nook within the oblong harmonies, these acoustic(ish) plaints sound more crisply defined.
More womanly too. Whether they like it or not, Pony Up's sexual segregation implicitly challenges the gender-blending of other Montreal bands like Arcade Fire and the Dears. Yet the lyric sheet reveals little spite, or even blame, directed either inward or outward—just a series of thwarted attempts at communication between the sexes, with all the ordinary frustrations ("I'll wait for you to move/Make the first move/But you never do"), ordinary misperceptions ("Now I only feel good/Why can't you believe?"), and ordinary self-deceptions ("This is me without charm/What possible harm could I do?") Then again, that printed word is an incomplete guide to the sensibility, both low key and minor key, that pulses with sullen, adorable venom throughout. When their voices collide to sing, "You know that I could eat you alive," the shared desire sounds not just vicious and sexy and cute but also deeply sad. The group's tiny tunes and modest fillips are so persistent and resilient, I almost believe that these flimsy devices can keep such post-adolescent melancholy at bay indefinitely. They can't, of course. That's what bands are for, and that's why sometimes they shouldn't have boys in 'em.
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