PONY Make Millennial Malaise Sound Fun on 'TV Baby'
Published Apr 08, 2021After five years of well-received live gigs and two solid EPs, the debut full-length album by Toronto-based group PONY has everything there is to like about the band — and lots more of it. Led by singer Sam Bielanski, they pump out sharp, flashy power-pop gems with a grunge spirit, bringing to mind '90s mementos like Letters to Cleo and the Breeders as well as present-day revivalists like Diet Cig, Ratboys and Charly Bliss.
The absolute simplest way to describe TV Baby is that it's made by millennials for millennials. It's entirely possible that the album was written during a marathon of Dawson's Creek and Breaker High and recorded directly to Hubba Bubba tape. But while PONY's upbeat, overdriven music does indeed sound ready-made for YTV promos, Capri Sun commercials or a Clueless reboot, the album's themes of wasted youth, social awkwardness and arrested development ought to resonate with anyone from preteens to 30-somethings — really, anyone who feels like they need to both grow up and have more fun, but doesn't know how to do both.
PONY waste no time getting to the hooks, and there's no sense in doing so. The punchy, off-beat accents of "Chokecherry" quickly give way to a hard-hitting chorus with a generous helping of generationally cherished slang: "Ooh, you blew it / If you don't know me by now I'm so over it / Can you get a grip? / You talk and you talk but you don't listen," Bielanski sings in a sugary sweet yet appropriately smart-alecky tone. These songs commit to the Ramonescore approach of high-voltage power chords and catchy melodies, with a resulting sound that has roughly the flavour and texture of a Fuzzy Peach candy.
An outlet for the anxiety of Google-induced hypochondria, "WebMD" is an excellent, high-energy tune with a first-rate chorus melody. On "Couch," Bielanski sings about not living up to people's expectations over bright chords and an unrelenting pop-punk beat. "I tried my best to be great, but it didn't take too kindly," they add in "Furniture," surrounded by plunking bass, steady drums and squalls of guitar. "I feel so alive when no one is around," they admit later in "My Room," their voice taking flight in a bright, open-air chorus that sounds fittingly free and uninhibited. The three-song run of midtempo tunes "Sometime Later," "Cry" and "Sunny D" all hum along at more or less the same space, making the album's back half drag a bit. But the band manages to stick the landing with "Swore," a closing track that's bittersweet and refreshingly spacious.
TV Baby tends to wallow in millennial malaise, but PONY have a lot of fun with it. It's the kind of record that's made for good times but speaks most directly to the experience of watching the world go by on television and Instagram. That's sort of the dichotomy of today's young adult. Sure, it might feel like you're stuck on an airplane that's slowly heading toward a crash-landing, but at least the in-flight entertainment is good. (Take This to Heart)