A super-smart pop album at the top of its game.
Natalie Shaw 2010
Before hitting play on The Optimist, there's a fear that it's going to be a less timely rehearsal of New Young Pony Club's 2007 debut. And while the fever of that LP came from its direct rip of the early 80s, its aloof riot-starting propensities and conscious eclecticism became listless by the third playback.
Thankfully, the band have returned with a triumphant LP which ceremoniously leaves the posturing behind, delivering a freer sound built on an exciting mix of crescendo, space and charm rather than quips clothed in layers of smut. Frontwoman Tahita Bulmer's vocals envelope the sound unafraid, cut loose from their quasi-spoken cage of pretence.
It's astonishing to hear the difference between the NYPC of new and old, yet so apparent even from The Optimist's first track, Lost a Girl. It's a glistening pop song full of stops, starts, lurching hooks and slightly dissonant vocals that defiantly possess anything but the faux-nonchalance of the debut. “I’m making you smile, why am I doing that?” she sings, brutally picking apart a relationship dead in the water, with more openness in the one line than at any time in Fantastic Playroom.
The range on this album is colossal, even though its influences are still more or less paraded; take the title-track's whirling, steam-engine keyboard parts, transplanted straight from The Horrors' reinvention of My Bloody Valentine, and the PJ Harvey-recalling sadness on the album's ballad, Stone. But there's far more than mimicry on offer here; colossal key-changes and an audible sense of excitement become the album's revelation.
The Optimist suffers from a slight top-loading, but the expertly self-produced twists and turns within its songs more than compensate. sure-hit-single We Want To's exhilarating harmonies and so-far-away-from-artful chorus are expertly structured, polarising with the way Before the Light pitches a frustrated, drone-like lead vocal against the sugar of Sarah Jones and Lou Hayter's backing.
The contrasts are ecstatic, setting in stone just how remarkable a comeback New Young Pony Club have pulled off. The Optimist is a super-smart pop album at the top of its game.