Album Review: New Young Pony Club – ‘The Optimist’ (Pias)

Ty and co's new dose of pure pop disco punk is edgier and more eager than ever

When [a]New Young Pony Club[/a] first released ‘Ice Cream’ on Tirk Records in 2005, it felt like they were destined to become Favourite New Band to a lot of people. The 1,000 copies of the seven-inch slice of disco-punk heaven disappeared from indie record stores fast. No surprise really; they were good looking (exuding sexuality, but not stage-managed over-sexualisation), well-dressed, smart, funny, ever so slightly obscene. They came on like a frisky mix of !!!, Tom Tom Club, New Order and The Bangles. After signing to Australian new rave label Modular, they lived up to some of the early promise with killer tracks such as ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘The Bomb’ but, behind the scenes, things were already starting to become fraught. Talking to NME in early 2007, singer Ty Bulmer confided that they were already starting to grow worried at how the label was treating them and the extent to which they were being moulded as new rave scenesters. So while in private the band said they’d been begging to work with James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy of DFA Records or Diplo on their debut, they had to settle for a more perfunctory and workmanlike job that screamed of a band desperate to break the mainstream.

And this is not to say that ‘Fantastic Playroom’ was, er, pony, it’s just that its highlight track ‘Ice Cream’ had already been reissued more times than a Pete Doherty court summons and had even been featured in a TV ad by the time the album surfaced. It was quite rightfully nominated for the Mercury Prize, but there was something slightly flat about the record. As the torrent of sexual puns and euphemisms tumesced, the sound got reedier and altogether more flaccid. Although there were only two or three filler tracks, there was something strangely prissy about the final product.

In the three years since, NYPC have parted company with Modular, set up their own label The Numbers, lost bassist Igor Volk (with guitarist Andy Spence taking over bass duties on ‘The Optimist’ and Remy Mallett filling in live) but, most importantly, picked apart the Gordian knot of their sound, managing to hold onto everything that was initially so alluring about them and ditching everything else. The result is copper-bottomed, stone-clad, liquid nitrogen-fuelled pure pop genius. Like any good disco music, the shine from the mirrorball hides the fundamentally dark and millennial edge that hedonism always produces. Under the lush melodies lies a subtle but rather affecting melancholy.

Spence, Ty’s songwriting partner in addition to being guitarist, came up with a list of rules (which have been mainly rather than totally adhered to) including no four-to-the-floor beats, no cowbell and no ‘sexy’ talk or monotone vocals. These parameters were a fundamental necessity to shift the Pony Club out of their comfort zone. In making this (undoubtedly scary) leap away from what’s expected of them they’ve pulled off the second album reinvention of 2010. If last year saw [a]The Horrors[/a] emerging from a garage-rock/goth chrysalis a beautiful and dazzling creature, then NYPC have done the same thing in disco-punk terms. Actually, the comparison is a concrete one on the title track, where the pulsing Cure bassline and tribal, tumbling drums from their Bonham-esque pounder Sarah Jones provides a metronomic anchor for keyboardist Lou Hayter to unleash psychedelic washes of organ, Ulrich Schnauss-style screengaze manipulation and a thundering arpeggiator. All of this would be by the by, however, if Ty hadn’t delivered the goods like a slightly world-weary Debbie Harry. She uses her voice like Kevin Shields manipulates the tremolo arm of his guitar; on labyrinthine multi-layered vocal harmonies, she allows one note to drift slowly off-pitch provoking a palpable sense of lovesickness. You’ve probably already heard the killer releases ‘Lost A Girl’ and ‘Chaos’, but they don’t adequately prepare you for ‘We Want To’ which opens as a chipper ESG/Delta 5 stomper before efflorescing into aching and injured pop brilliance, Ty brokenly intoning, “I don’t want to do any of this without you”). Another highlight is ‘Before The Light’, which sees Ty channelling Siouxsie Sioux and Karin Dreijer Andersson with uncommon grace. It is difficult to imagine a better pop album coming out this year.

John Doran

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