To say it’s a challenge for women to make it in the music business is about as obvious as saying war isn’t easy. War and the music business share more than a few things in common, but certain musical genres are less of a battle for women. Thanks to acts such as Sleater-Kinney and Bettie Serveert, even the most awkward and rhythmically challenged white girls have a chance to shine. And it doesn’t hurt to come from the right corner of the world, either.
With their debut full-length, Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes, the members of Montreal’s Pony Up have thoroughly studied their indie-rock textbooks and are ready to show what they’ve learned. Before their official recital, the band called on indie tastemaker engineer Brian Paulson (Beck, Wilco) and local guru Howard Bilerman (Arcarde Fire, Wolf Parade) to help with recording. And, taking hints from the current Canadian sound, members Laura Wills, Sarah Monundroukas, Lindsay Wills and Lisa Smith incorporated plenty of bell-like keyboards and loads of vocal harmony into the mix.
After three years of practice (the band formed, apparently, on New Year’s Eve in 2002) and one EP, Pony Up’s debut full-length hits like a pillow fight. Some tracks smack you in the face with such kitschy girl pop that they’ll make even bad boys want to giggle (“The Truth About Cats And Dogs (Is That They Die)” and “Possible Harm”). Other tracks are soft blows that bounce off like a gust of wind, under-thought and stereotypical of the genre (“The First Waltz” and “The Best Offense”). The lyrics can at times sound more fitting for an after-school special (“I tell myself I’m doing fine/ But there’s no one here to ease my mind/ There’s no one here to see me fall/ There’s no one here at all” from “Ships”), but that can also be refreshing.
In the scheme of the Canadian pop-music explosion, Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes is not a defining stop on the road. But fans of the girl-pop indie sound will find what they’re looking for here: songs about heartbreak and boys being idiots, played over light rhythms. Despite the album’s down moments and part-time vocalist Laura Wills’s strikingly similar style to Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, Pony Up puts a good foot forward on its debut. The sound is a bit expected, but the album’s pop execution is noteworthy.