Ponies – Ponies 2

Written by Reza Mills

Follow-up albums are never an easy prospect; you just have to take a glance through history to see the scattered corpses of artists who have failed to live up to their initial promise. The Violent Femmes, The Stone Roses and Guns ‘N’ Roses (Especially if like me you’ve had the misfortune of hearing the risible Chinese Democracy) are just three examples. It was with this thought in mind therefore and a good deal of trepidation that I put on Ponies 2. Bettering Ponies classic self-titled predecessor was always going to be tricky.

My copy of Ponies 2 is one of 25 that were assembled in June 2009 and recorded between summer 2008 and spring 2009 in two separate locations within Lancaster. The majority of the tracks were recorded with the assistance of Robin Williams and Tristan Clutterbuck of electro Post-rockers Homemade Lemonade in the Jack Hylton Suite at Lancaster University, whilst the 2 live numbers were recorded at The Gregson Centre by Wes Martin and Nigel Parrington of indie-folk outfit The Low Countries. This time round there were 8 tracks on the CD.

The album opens with a short harmonica instrumental entitled ‘Open Book’, before leading onto the sort of indie-folk perfection we have come to expect of Ponies, with the track Begin again, again. The theme of lost spirituality and the quest for some form of redemption is continued from their self-titled debut. However this time round sees the religious overtones and gospel influences toned down somewhat and the theme of friendship introduced with songs such as ‘where’s the friend’ and ‘With Friends’, the latter a collaboration with Tristan and Robin as well as Jo Gillot. This track is particularly interesting, the drumming at the start reminding me of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like honey’ and in fact retaining some of that songs pre-shoe gazing dreamlike qualities. The track features instrumentation rare on your average Ponies release, Tom switching from acoustic to electric guitar as Bob Dylan did for his infamous Newport performance in 1965 (although I’m sure he won’t be booed for doing so) and Tristan and Robin adeptly handling percussive duties, whilst Jo provides some exquisite violin playing that helps to counterbalance the slightly rougher feel of the song. The track is something of an anomaly, and indeed provides a nice break to the usual acoustic indie-folk prevalent on the album. Along with the instrumental opener ‘Open Book’, ‘With Friends’ shows Tom flexing his creative muscles and experimenting with different styles. It shows an artist willing to spread his wings and take risks. How many artists these days can claim to do that?

Emotionally as well the album is a lot more varied than its’ predecessor, the wistful melancholy still dominates a lot of the material, but this time there is also a sense of newfound hope and optimism. This could be in part thanks not only to the aforementioned theme of friendship but also of devotion; devotion to friends, devotion to god and so on. These help to counterbalance the more mournful sombre moments. Production wise Tom is still ‘keeping it real’, the album remaining resolutely lo-fi and unfussy, the live tracks particularly doing an excellent job of capturing Ponies at their emotionally rawest and vulnerable.

It would seem then that any potential misgivings I may have had about Ponies 2 were ill-founded. The album sees Tom continuing to mature both as a songwriter and as a performer particularly one that is prepared to take chances. For further information about Ponies visit www.myspace.com/poniesetc.

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6 Responses

  1. can’t believe I didn’t pick up a ‘name your price’ copy last week…how remiss especially as I recorded two of the tracks at the Greggy. Ok, I know Tom doesn’t mind the copy/redistribute thing so anyone out there wanna do me a blag, be most happy.

  2. Alright Wes,

    I’m happy to do you a ‘blag’.

  3. Hey
    Cheers Reza, that mean we’d have to meet in reality, haha

  4. Nice review. I’d like to hear this record. Hopefully wes will knock me one off next time I see him.

    And copy me the music too.

    Ber boom.

  5. Cheers David. Ponies are great, I’m a big fan of Tom’s work. At 8 tracks its’ short and sweet.

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