Ponychase – Parade of Youth (album) (self-released)


Synthpop isn’t likely to be the first thing one thinks of when thinking of Nashville, TN but Ponychase are well on their way to changing that.

The name Ponychase was the pseudonym given to a series of home demos recorded by Jordan Caress.  A quick Google search of her name will show that prior to Ponychase, Caress had been associated with a number of country, folk, and rock projects including Americana band, Korean Is Asian. Through a serendipitous meeting Caress found Beth Cameron (singer/songwriter and guitarist) formerly of beloved Nashville rock band, Forget Cassettes. The two exchanged demos with Cameron signing up soon after. Jordan then enlisted her brother Alex Caress to play synths and electronic drummer Brian Sinskind, thus Ponychase was born.

Back in January 2013, we reviewed the debut self-titled EP from Ponychase – a stunning 6-track mini-album with an 80’s pastiche that gave nod to Cocteau Twins, HAIM, and Stevie Nicks.

In September last year, the band released a new single entitled Parade of Youth (read our review). Refining their finely-tuned, 80’s-inspired pop even further, Parade of Youth became one of our favourite tunes of 2013.

The quartet have now just released their debut album, Parade of Youth, which not only takes the title from but also includes the aforementioned single.

Put simply, Parade of Youth consists of 10 impeccably crafted and immaculately produced pop tracks. The sound palate is unmistakably 80’s with warm atmospheric synths, kitschy retro keys, booming SDS 5 electronic drums, and lush, breathy vocals. The band’s 80’s-flavoured synthpop , however, differs greatly from other contemporary synthpop acts like Phantogram, Chvrches, et al, and instead shares more in common with HAIM.

The Ponychase debut is a pop record through and through: immediately digestible but not disposable, with clear, cohesive, but never predictable or “phoned-in”, pop arrangements. In fact, one of the keys to the album as a whole is that the melodies and hooks never sound forced and are often understated (but certainly no less catchy). Additionally, despite its pop smarts, there is a definite weight and darkness that permeates throughout the record.

The opening title track is one hell of a tune with hints of Stevie Nicks. As we mentioned in our earlier review of the single, where many bands simply dabble with the sound of 80′s to create a throwback sound of yesteryear, the title track showcases the band’s songwriting expertise, making this track more than just a novel tune.

The Cyndi Lauper-esque Friends – the most kitsch number on the record – follows next and is another fine example of the band’s songwriting prowess. The brilliant Running With The Park has a similar tone and moodiness to the opening title track while the new-wave sounding, The Grave has the ethereal echoes of Kate Bush circa Hounds of Love. The latter even features some nostalgia-inducing guitar lead melodies from yesteryear.

The keyboard melody during the opening of Resurrected may cause you to think Ponychase has covered Steve Perry’s Oh Sherrie, however, it quickly moves into an interesting Julee Cruise-ish meets HAIM territory. No need To Argue, which follows, further exaggerates the Julee Cruise connection with its dreaminess and tremolo guitar melodies.

Continuing with the atmospheric, downtempo route of the previous two tracks, House In The Valley and Headlights are both moody, mid-paced, heartfelt numbers. Headlights also features some odd little quirks, including brief time signature changes, but is bolstered together thanks to its chorus of pure, sugary-pop goodness.

The early mentioned Steve Nicks comparison makes another appearance in the excellent Tumbleweeds before the mood of the record becomes reflective and meditative for closing track, Melissa. An album highlight, Melissa is a beautiful and moving tribute to what we assume is Caress’s mother. Heartfelt stuff.

Though only March, we’ve got a strong feeling Parade of Youth might end up being one of our favourite records by the year’s close. Now here’s hoping this record gets the attention it deserves.

Parade of Youth was released March 4, 2014 and is now available via the Ponychase Bandcamp, digitally, as well as CD, and limited edition cassette (100 copies only).

Listen to the title track below: