Stay Gold, Pony Up’s second full-length release, is a lively collection of home brewed pop songs. To call it lo-fi would be a stretch, but there’s certainly a garage rock quality, as if the band was wary of crowding songs with studio trickery.
Pony Up are an all-female Canadian quartet that came about in fulfillment of a joint New Years’ resolution, who have been playing together for close to a decade now. Here, they demonstrate their cohesiveness and live prowess: each song on Stay Gold plays like a live standard — the kind that fills bar rooms, not stadiums, and which now finds itself suited to bedrooms as well.
Opener “Manchild” is enjoyable, but fails to be arresting in its lyrical content or delivery. It lacks the wit of “Bastard Children”, the energy of “Charles” or the immediacy of “Power of 8”. The album continues, fairly innocuously, until the folksy “Making More Beneath” evolves unexpectedly into a raucous outpouring of emotion. As if fighting back against hands reaching out to silence them, the vocals rise in force and fury up until the song’s end. Pony Up revels in the triumph of single “Charles”, a brilliant, joyful pop song that highlights the band’s best and most unique trait: its ability to craft lyrics that keep their dark edge while still laughing at their own pessimism (“Ladles filled with nails and honey kill the evil that’s inside me/Oh my!”).
The album’s first outward hint of darkness hidden in its lyrics emerges on the noir-pop shuffle of “Sounds Like My Wedding Night.” “Power of 8” opens with what is undoubtedly the album’s silliest keyboard riff, but quickly banishes all laughter, proving itself to be the album’s strongest track by fusing mighty, hook-filled power-pop with possibly sadistic lyrics, culminating in an instrumental breakdown that marks the album’s most rock ‘n’ roll moment.
Stay Gold isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly consistent. Its lesser tracks aren’t bad; they just fall short of the band’s ability, and, amidst so many successes, pale in comparison. Notably, in a world filled with both genre-hoppers and formulaic song machines, Pony Up resort to neither extreme. The band has produced ten songs all created from the same basic ingredients — punchy bass, scraggly guitar, sparking keyboard, rat-a-tat drums, and the mellifluous voices of Sarah Moundroukas and Laura Wills — which all sound totally different from one another.
This is an album for fans of pop neither at its slickest nor its grittiest: you’ll find no trace of Rihanna or No Age here. The guitar tones recall Belle & Sebastian circa Tigermilk and the Lazy Line Painter Jane EP. Those looking for more of the intelligence and energy offered by early Tilly & the Wall will find it here. Overall, Stay Gold is a success, a sunny album packed with equal parts pop listenability, poetic lyricism, and bleeding heart sincerity.