You can say what you like about the state of music at the minute, but you can’t accuse it of a lack of diversity. The charts may be terrible, the radio may have been playing the same old tired rubbish for the past 3 years, X Factor may be ruining everybody’s hopes of a memorable Christmas Number 1, but there’s still a lot going on beneath the surface. The DIY scene is simmering nicely, and though myspace might be on its last legs, there’s still word of mouth and twitter to sort out a band. But the money for most bands comes in the lucrative indie-crossover market.
Whereas gimmicky pop acts riding the scene come and go, there’s been a definite trend over the past few years towards more melodic indie pop music. Since Arcade Fire burst onto the scene and Sigur Ros proved that it’s possible to be both ambitiously orchestral and mainstream, there’s been a steady flow of acts willing to test the formula. Frightened Rabbit have been the latest to find their star rise following some beautiful, harmonic pop music, and hoping to follow that route are The Pony Collaboration.
Now onto their second album, If These are the Good Times follows their critically acclaimed eponymous debut. It’s easy to understand why they’ve slowly been gaining fans from the opening few bars of ‘Until it’s Gone’. They’ve got a sound that’s both brooding and uplifting at the same time, with a mixture of laid back percussion and tender guitar laid on a bed of swooning violin. To top it off, lead singer James Scallan has a voice that feels like it’s been distilled in oak barrels for the past decade or so, booming with a harmonic sort of bass, complementing the tender, tip-toe fragility that Ellie Walker’s singing offers the group.
There’s definitely a stripped down feel to this record at times, sounding as though it’s an intimate session. The fact is, though, that there are eight people in the band – that’s one more than Los Campesinos! currently stand at. It’s remarkable just how simplistic The Pony Collaboration have managed to keep it, given the numbers involved, though in fairness that’s most likely due to the lack of electronic instruments involved, that can often create a false sense of atmosphere. However, whereas Cardiff’s finest have managed to invent a jaunty, cramped pop genre of their own to inhabit, it’s sad that If These are the Good Times’ doesn’t manage the same.
Whilst it is all incredibly easy on the ears, too much of the record settles for simply being average rather than being notable. If you don’t pay attention, it can simply pass you by, unnoticed. Suitably, there’s no standout track to really focus in on. There are definite hints of the more Americana tinged moments from Labrador records roster, but it fails to add the twist that makes good bands great. Lyrically, it’s not bad, but it’s slightly naive and dated – like in the title track, where Scallan sings “For once I am happy/So please don’t go home/Or capture this moment/On your camera/Or mobile phone”. It often feels like there’s something stopping the band from emoting properly or commiting to the moment.
There’s certainly a great record somewhere in this band, but this one isn’t quite it. Hopefully, with more experience under their belt, they can come back again in another 2 years time and make the album that this one regularly promises but ultimately fails to be – bold, challenging and beautiful.