It’s clear from the outset that signing to Matador has beefed up the Ponys’ sound quality, significantly improving on the lo-fi feel of debut Laced with Romance (2004) and the Steve Albini follow-up, Celebration Castle (2005). But on Turn the Lights Out, the band remains sincere and scruffily garage-band earnest — and still sounds as if the garage is the size of an airplane hangar. Producer John Angello brought discipline to the band, but he preserved the Ponys youthful enthusiasm and sincerity. And even if almost every song here sounds like something someone else has already done, there’s still originality to be found.
First single and opener “Double Vision” is a fairly forgettable approximation of today’s danceable fashion-rock: singer Jered Gummere’s faux-British talk-sing (will this trend ever go away?), canned heartbreak lyrics (“My heart’s on a break/ thought you should know”) and an uninteresting bass stomp that looks to a distorted finale to pick up the energy. But then the second guitar’s melody pierces the fuzzed-out wash as “Small Talk” concludes the twelve-song album’s first quarter. Hang on: Is this actually a rocking throwback to ’60s psychedelic-guitar freak-out with a Sonic Youth feedback jam and with whacked-out synths that couldn’t be more of the now? The title track continues the garage-psych-pop jam filtered through a Super Furry Animals-esque keyboard vamp alongside a deliberate, uncomplicated rhythm section.
The remainder of the album shows a bevy of creativity hiding underneath the inexplicably rote opening tracks. “Shine” channels big Southern-rock chords through a shoegaze vein. “Kingdom of Hearts” is a Breeders-style harmony with massively reverbed My Bloody Valentine guitar echoes. “Exile on My Street,” an almost straight-up homage/satire/crib of the Guess Who’s “No Time,” smoothly descends into and out of an effluvial melodic cacophony.
Turn the Lights Out concludes with “Pickpocket Song,” which checks every box on the Consummate Album Closer checklist: nearly twice as long as every other song on the album, sprawling and expansive, capped with an extended feedback-laden, heavily effected keyboard spaciousness, basically epic in all the right ways. Yet it maintains the charmingly garage-y spirit and style of its earlier efforts. It’s one of the album’s most original numbers, a subtle acknowledgement given that the band can’t separate itself from its major influences. Surely that fact is evident even after one listen, but it’s probably more accurate to call this pickpocketing than grand theft larceny. The band members are not evil or calculatingly immoral, just not yet quite at the point where they are entirely self-sufficient. On potential and maturation alone, not to mention the satisfaction of listening to the music, there is more than enough here.