The Ponys rode out of Chicago last year bearing Laced With Romance
, a debut grounded in lots of currently cool codes: '80s earmarks (Echo & the Bunnymen's reverb melodrama, singer Jared Gummere's Richard Hell howl) and garage-rock revamp (trashy tempos, jangly guitars). But the unearthly amount of Phil Spector-style echo over everything -- not to mention some androgynous background vocals -- didn't allow for such easy trend-whoring. This sophomore CD has mostly axed the über-echo (sapping a little of Laced
's mystery), but lets the band's strong songwriting shine. Merseybeat stomps like "Today" and "Get Black" crackle with syncopated beats, while all the dual guitar-churning makes the Ponys a fine Velvet Underground-cum-Feelies-cum-Wedding Present evolutionary candidate. They can also pull off pretty elegies ("Glass Conversation," "She's Broken") with surprise spazz-fuzz solos and yelping background vocals. A horse of a different color, indeed.