The Ponys
Laced With Romance
In The Red Records

it’s no mystery why so many indie music geeks are also message board junkies.

For starters, there’s usually a good bit of free time and disposable income amongst our straight-outta-the-suburbs, higher education set.

Next, take into consideration the pervasive persnicketiness of indie snobs, the eternal jockeying for snarky supremacy, the atmosphere of ever-changing cool that lends itself so well to rapid-fire exchanges on the internet.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we’re all addicted to new music, or sometimes more accuately, the sense of newness that’s attached to it, the thrill of identifying a trend in its infacy or discovering a band long before their music has become de rigeur.

These factors and countless others have led myself and no doubt a large number of my esteemed Stylus colleagues to sacrifice hours of sleep, study, and sanity for the strangely intoxicating lure of these message board battlegrounds, one such war zone being the ultra-contentious, occasionally useful Hipinion.

See, Hipinion is, as the name suggests, a hipper-than-thou, ostensibly indie-rock hipster message board that got spun off from the Pitchforkmedia Smackdown site but continues to deliver the hate undaunted.

Anyway, I say ostensibly because this board’s more about making fun of dead people and trying to coax female boarders into posting their boobs than it is about music. I’m a lurker for the most part, seeing as how I don’t have a whole lot to say about deformed babies, bukkake, and Chris Ott.

That’s not to say there’s not some coolness on the board, and in fact I owe a couple of those dicks a debt of gratitude for turning me on to the blinding-brilliant debut from Chicago-based garage-punks The Ponys (Incidentally, the second place I heard about these guys was the Sound Opinions message board, notably frequented by Messrs. Unterberger and Bloch).

Now, I’ll start off by saying that I’m not really feeling this whole Franz Ferdinand thing, and I can thank The Ponys for helping me understandy exactly why.

Of course, both bands fit rather comfortably underneath the too-inclusive post-punk umbrella, both descended from that same arch, art-conscious, early-Rough Trade line.

However, whereas Archduke Asshat slathers on the pomo cheekiness to create a brand new hybrid of suck, The Ponys stay slavish to their stylistic forebears but still manage to convey ten times the passion and anti-anthemic catchiness as those not-so-hot Scots. Personally, I’ll take derivatively exciting over uniquely dull any day of the week.

Laced With Romance starts with an actual horse’s gallop, and then the band launches into THAT riff at the start of “Let’s Kill Ourselves,” one of those timeless telegraphed passages that Franz Ferdinand are too clever to steal but that’s worked like gangbusters for a whole bunch of oldsters (The Stones, The Who, The Jam).

It’s a brilliantly propulsive, perfectly streamlined opener, but it gets even better, because it turns out that The Ponys also have a healthy amount of irreverence in spite of their impenetrable vocals and post-punk mannerisms. All I can make out of “Ten Fingers and Eleven Toes” is the title, but that’s more than enough to convince me that this band’s not half as arch as you’d think, more Buzzcocks than The Fall.

After “Sad Eyes” nicks Sleater-Kinney for its circular riff and “Little Friends” gives us another oddball gem that’s apparently about household pets, we get to “Fall In” and we’re introduced to a second vocalist, former Happy Supply member and capable Peter Perrett soundalike Ian Adams. He’s a solid switchup from Gummere’s affected yelp, but that’s beside the point, because this song’s main draw is how it hotwires a perfect-facsimile Byrds riff circa “Mister Tambourine Man” to goddamn Phil Spector Wall of Sound “And Then He Kissed Me” drums, an unholy alliance of the Love Generation that sounds like it was always meant to be.

Of course, The Ponys can’t keep it up, and like most debuts, Laced With Romance is frontloaded as fuck. “Looking Out a Mirror” offers more than enough New Wave raucousness, but then the highway riff robbery starts to come up counterfeit on the uninspired “Trouble Trouble” and “Chemical Imbalance.” Fortunately, The Ponys finally make good on their album title with the epic slow burner “I’ll Make You a Star,” while the unblinking relentless of “Virus Human” and the slash-and-burn destruction of “The Only One” help send you on the straightaway back towards home. Hey, if it’s good enough for the hipsters, it’s good enough for you too.

Reviewed by: Josh Love
Reviewed on: 2004-03-19
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