Began originally as a solo project of singer/guitarist James Walker, Blood Pony has morphed and grown exponentially into a collective project that blurs the lines between rock and folk pulling source material from disparate ends of the genres.
Adding a myriad of instruments to the standard lineup of guitar, bass guitar and drums in the rock lexicon, the seven piece outfit approaches their sound in an unorthodox manner with more focus on complex melodies and harmonies rather than a typical rock 'n roll back beat of drums and bass guitar and a guitar adding color. Instruments like glockenspiel, trombone and at times two-pronged violin arrangements add layers of texture to the melodies of each song. While a large bass drum much like jazz bands of the 1920's - complete with a painting of the band name and hometown on the drumhead - adds a different sound perspective to the bottom end.
For its first full-length album, Escapsists (Anomer Records, 2011), Blood Pony combines elements of indie rock, folk and rock into a mix with a full sound without sounding too overwrought. The ten-song album follows up their six-song EP Kissing Cities released in December 2009 and reigns in the chaotic tracks found on that first release. Walker told RFT music editor Annie Zaleski a couple of months ago that, "This record has a nice continuity to it. The E.P. was all over the place, as we were still learning how to be a band."
A septet, Blood Pony is James Walker on Vocals/Guitar, Terry McCoy on Drums/Melodica/Glockenspiel, Cody Hayo on Violin/Glockenspiel/Percussion, Hayden M. Loos on Guitar/Keyboards, Bruce Klostermann on Bass, Theron Perkowski on Trombone/Moog/Vocals and Tori Walters on Violin/Vocals. Since the EP's release, the band added Perkowski and Walters to the lineup and both supplement the vocals of Walker nicely.
Recording the band at The Sea Is A Sound Studios, producer Skip Johnston gives the record a rich, warm sound that does not come off overproduced nor too sparse. The myriad of instruments are given their due space and allowed to breathe in what could have become a crowded mix. Assisted slightly by Anomer Records chief Jeff Fields, Johnston (Franklin Felix) succeeds in his second job as producer for the band. He produced the band's EP as well.
The dissonant harmony vocals of Walker, Walters, and Perkowski provides the opening introduction to the album. This opening to lead track, "Follow Lights. Panic! Run You Fools!", lacks a strong hook to draw every listener in, but keeps the interest level high about where this journey will end.
The band hits its stride on the second and third tracks "Coming Home (Oh, Here We Go!)" and "We Are Lost." Walker's clean, jangle guitar strumming combined with the glockenspiel provides "Coming Home..." a sweet melody as Walker and Walters harmonize their vocals over a rolling, pounding drum beat. The violin and trombone are free to move in an out with counter melodies giving the song greater depth.
Though somewhat limited, Walker's vocal range is not limiting to these minor-key, mid-tempo songs. At times raspy, his voice occasionally sings in the general vicinity of notes instead of singing directly on them, yet that does not detract greatly from the overall sound the band is trying to create and only becomes a minor distraction.
Fans of the Arcade Fire will hear that band's influence over the mid-album track "Children Of Lightning" while the guitar on "Frail Fighter" seemingly gives a nod to Chicago based band, The Sea And Cake.
The angular sound of the violin populates the entire record and is reminiscent of the indie instrumental band Rachel's without reaching too deeply into a classical sound. The dual violin attack of "Bruised Brown Eyes" showcases fine work by Walters and Hayo, and the six-minute track length gives them room to stretch out and may prove a good vehicle to open up further in a live setting if the mood of the evening allowed.
The following track "Bulletproof Tiger" becomes the track that fits easiest into the folk genre. The six-minute track starts off with a whispy, lightly picked guitar, adding violin, and piano, but transforms becoming gritty and harsh by song's end led by McCoy's pounding snare rolls urging the band to follow his pace towards the eventual crescendo. It would not be hard to confuse the song as a b-side or track left off the new Decemberists album.
The album ends on a high note with the distorted, dirty guitar sound of Walker and Loos pushing the band decidedly in a rock/alternative rock direction on "Silent Woman, Speak." Multiple textures of guitar, vocals, violin, bass and drums build to the 2:12 mark where the song starts to soar. A perfect ending to the album, the song should win over any critical audience watching the band open for another well-known act.
Escapists finds Blood Pony still working hard on becoming a better band while showing flashes of greatness along the way. With all the components seemingly now in place the focus must obviously shift to crafting even stronger songs that begin to reign in their wide-ranging influences and allow the band to grow and flourish in its own skin -- a challenge this band seems willing to accept.
Blood Pony - Escapists track listing
- Follow Lights. Panic! Run You Fools!
- Coming Home (Oh, Here We Go!)
- We Are Lost
- Frail Fighter
- Children Of Lighting
- When A Mouse Roars
- City Of Pavement
- Bruised Brown Eyes
- Bulletproof Tiger
- Silent Woman, Speak.
Who: Blood Pony with Pretty Little Empire, 3 Dollar Band
What: Blood Pony CD Release Party
Where: Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Ave.
When: Saturday, January 22, 2011
How much: $10 over 21, $13 under 21 (admission price includes Blood Pony album)
You can also find a free download from KWUR 90.3 FM of some of the album's tracks as performed live in studio.