PONY Find Profundity in Power Pop on 'Velveteen'

BY Nicholas SokicPublished May 17, 2023


Velveteen, the latest dispatch from Toronto duo Sam Bielanski and Matty Morand's PONY, isn't going to dramatically shake up listeners' perception of the band — a good thing, seeing as these 10 confectionary tracks are among the band's best.

PONY deliver another collection of driven, guitar-focused songs armed with faultlessly smooth hooks and tales of doubt and uncertainties, both in relationships and one's self. Still, it's the furthest thing from a rote "Happy Songs That Are Actually Sad" playlist — PONY isn't tricking you; the form and content are in synthesis.

Bielanski is never wallowing, so the total package becomes as triumphant as it is reflective. Velveteen's power pop-via-grunge spirit makes the malaise sound inviting, even empowering. Spiritually, it most resembles the open-hearted but not overbearing sensitivities of Rilo Kiley's best.

Take single and opener "Très Jolie," which Bielanski described as being about the "conflicting emotions of falling in love with someone when you don't quite love yourself yet." Listeners are immediately put in the groove by the propulsive drums and sugary-sweet vocals — there's confusion and doubt, but also excitement.

That setup provides an interesting (and somehow never contradictory) dichotomy in songs like 'Peach,' which looks at the ways in which relationships sour, turn conditional, even rot. When Bielanski sings "I get distracted by the saccharine / I can barely stand this sin / dripping down my chin" against an unabashed pop soundscape, it's as appropriate a welding of lyrics to music as there ever was.

There's a bit of irony in these songs focused on longing and a desire for connection, the demos of which were recorded alone in a closet on Bielanski's iPhone — but it's an irony that lends the album more emotional heft.

What PONY understand innately is that opening yourself up to others, expressing vulnerability, growth, any combination of fears and tears, is often terrifying and frequently crushing — but the rewards can be profound.

(Take This to Heart)

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