A thin, blurry line known as familiarity is the only thing that separates “passionate” and “twee.” If I had known that Ponies in the Surf was a brother/sister duo singing quaint little melodies, I sure as hell would not have asked to review their debut album, A Demonstration. And I sure as hell would have missed out, because these two have created twenty minutes of music that moved me straight into the realm of relaxed familiarity that allows the subtle charm of these songs to sink in.
Camille and Alexander McGregor are the anti-Friedbergers, the talented but long-winded siblings of the Fiery Furnaces. Where the Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat is an ode to more, more, more, the McGregors let simplicity guide their music. With only two voices and one acoustic guitar, there’s nowhere to hide any defects. Luckily for the Ponies, there are almost none to be found. Between Alexander’s slow strums and lightning-fast finger-picking, the McGregors’s childhood spent in Colombia seeps its way into their songs in the form of Latin rhythms on tracks like “Ventricle” and “Sweet and Low.”
The running time is only about twenty minutes, but there are enough “ba”s and “bum”s to fill a ’60s pop album. With the exception of “Sweet and Low,” most of the time they’re just placeholders on the way in or out of a song. At times, it can be challenging to figure out where they’re going lyrically, but the Ponies relate the details as effectively as a skilled author, fleshing out the smallest details in service of the bigger picture. The quaint lyrics deal with topics as grand as the meaning of life and as trivial as the location of the local Communist Party office. Love, of course, plays a part. Opener “See You Happy” melts with the nostalgia of a broken relationship; though the pair sings, “There’s nothing better than to see you happy,” the somber tone lends the tune a things-I-wish-I’d-said-while-you-were-still-around air.
The songs on A Demonstration are just that: examples of what the Ponies are capable of, with little else revealed. They may have penned these tunes in one night, or this could be the culmination of two years time. The barebones recordings leave no indication of where the McGregors want to go in the future. Maybe they want to go all Friedberger with their next release, or maybe the new album will be just as simple. Either way, these are a few enchanting songs made by two talented people, and that’s more than enough to satisfy.