Pony Express: Fraud (Velvet Blue Music, 2004)
Barely a year after the release of their surprising Becoming What You Hate, California band Pony Express has released a short, 5-song EP Fraud. Consisting of a rotating cast of band members supporting principle songwriter and lead vocalist Jeff Cloud, Pony Express has built a reputation of playing sombre and sullen slowcore. But, with Becoming What You Hate, Pony Express let the shiny pop melodies that always hid under the surface of Cloud’s songs burst forth, resulting in a collection of extremely catchy tracks that are as diverse as they are refreshing.
Fraud picks up where the full-length leaves off, keeping Cloud’s knack for writing delicious melodies intact. However, the EP shows the band exploring a far more experimental approach to the songs, as each track buzzes and whirs with peculiar noises. Witness the heavy and distorted guitars and frantic drumming on “Half-Hearted”, or the distorted drums of “Options”; (a Pedro the Lion cover that Pony Express reinterprets as a heavy, brooding, song that borders on shoegaze). In fact, one can say that on Fraud, Pony Express has more or less abandoned their original slowcore sound in favour for a more shoegaze-oriented approach, with the thick layers of guitars and keys masking Cloud’s ever-improving voice. But that does not mean that Cloud does not abandon his moping about. Despite the pop appeal of the songs on Fraud, Cloud delivers them in his understated way, giving them just a hint of melancholy under the sweet melodies and aggressive sounds. The approach on Fraud of matching Cloud’s strong songs with a dose of inventive experimentalism ultimately wins the listener over, and culminates to become Pony Express’ most interesting release.
As with his other releases, Cloud surrounds himself with a cast of musicians on Fraud that ultimately add their own flourishes to the Pony Express sound. In particular, for Fraud, Frank Lenz (Lassie Foundation, Fold Zandura, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Richard Swift) lends his ability to create recklessly fun and high quality music, as Lenz serves as the release’s producer and (undoubtedly) drummer. Lenz crashes the drums and incorporates the kinds of noise-approach that he used on his own The Last Temptation of Frank Lenz, as well as the aforementioned Becoming What You Hate. While the artwork of Fraud does not explicitly mention the other artists involved in this project, one can safely assume that some of the deft keyboard work was done by Richard Swift, Lenz’s recording partner. Together, along with Cloud’s own distinct touch, these (and possibly other) musicians combine their resources to create an EP that is fun, raunchy, dark, and wild at the same time. My main complaint about the EP is that it is way too short: with only 5 relatively short songs (and only 4 originals from Cloud), Pony Express sure knows how to flirt with listeners. But, taken as a stand-alone project, Fraud is well worth the small investment in cash, and fans of the more experimental side of independent pop will find themselves singing along in no time.
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