Chicago - sorry, 'Chit-cago' says the press blurb - quartet The Ponys have enjoyed comparisons to Richard Hell, Television and The Velvet Underground, and attracted Detroit scenesters with their debut Laced With Romance following their decision to record with renowned knob-twiddler Jim Diamond at his Ghetto Recorders studio (and through simply playing the city a lot). Album number two has seen them stay local production wise, enlisting the ever capable Steve Albini to guide these songs from memory to tape, but not lose touch with their original, retro-without-carbon-copying-anyone sound.
The echoes of inspirations past can be heard across Celebration Castle, but never do they detract significantly from the urgent punk tearing from the hearts of impassioned vocalist Jered Gummere and his cohorts. Okay, so said punk remains laced with romance (sorry), but the power of early efforts like 'Glass Conversation' and 'Today' is unquestionable. The curtain raising drums of the former give way to a wandering guitar riff that seems to not know its true purpose - to slash and burn or to seduce and conquer. Either way, Gummere soon drives the song into yelps of desperation and distress - "I tried to walk, to get away... I feel like everyone is down on me, and I don't wanna hear that, feel that."
If the lyrical themes are largely rooted in acts of self-preservation and damage avoidance in whatever form, be it physical or emotional, then the music doesn't always walk side by side with a similar mindset: 'I'm With You' sounds like the sweetest of love songs, all shimmering guitars and joyous handclaps. That said, even the most charming of accompaniments can be deceptive, as 'Another Wound' proves only too well as Gummere stresses, "You'll see that dark shadows remind us of our fears, and they do it just for fun..."
Said shadows come closest on 'We Shot The World', a song that must surely stem from at least a halfhearted appreciation of gloomy Brits like The Smiths and, more specifically, Joy Division. The bassline smacks of Hooky, albeit at a funeral-march pace, and the lyrics even offer a nod to the Manchester outfit: "Because you know you'll never tear us apart." Of course, this is just one interpretation of a song that can be analysed on a number of aesthetic and artistic levels, but one fact is obvious however you view it: the song's a parting highlight before a mid-album drop into mediocrity. It's a shame after five strong offerings, but Celebration Castle does rather suffer from a midsection slump.
Quality control is rescued though by a storming parting brace of 'Ferocious' and 'She's Broken', the latter of which sees bassist Melissa Elias step up to take the lead vocal. At least, I assume that's the one girl in the band singing... I hope that's a girl singing. Whatever, it's a riotous three-and-a-half minutes of Sleater-Kinney-like melodious pop-rockin' fury with a fucking superb chorus - a hit, basically, and tailor-made for tossing one's hair to while wildly cavorting around a bedroom, um, if that's your thing... anyway...
Albini's production is as subtle as always, which allows the majority of these songs to shine, relatively speaking. A couple of lightweight numbers aside hardly damage this writer's final opinion, which is one of warm recommendation.
7Mike Diver's Score