The statement that Ponderosas second album, Pool Party, sounds nothing like their debut record is neither immediately encouraging nor disheartening. The title of the Atlanta bands debut, Moonlight Revival, gives a good sense of the sound: a late night attempt to grasp onto alt-country cliché, to drive down country roads with a new girl by your side, to get chased by the devil and stay on the run with your baby.
Unfortunately, Pool Party’s title is also indicative of its sound: Ponderosa decided to depart from their debut style by tackling an entirely different genre– and a new bundle of cliches. This time around, ethereal indie surf-pop is the band’s weapon of choice, a choice that can’t help but feel calculated, and the result is a record that adds little to subvert, challenge, or reconstruct anew the type of music it has, for whatever reason, adopted.
Pool Party surely owes a whole lot to Fleet Foxes and Beach House on Pool Party, which finds singer Kalen Nash hiding behind and playing around double-tracked vocals and a whole lot of heavy reverb. Pool Partys best moments, though, owe more to the loud, wide ambitions of bands like My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon. Navajo, the lead single, has just the right combination of reverb and bombast, especially when the song hits its stride in the chorus. It’s not hard to imagine the song being played on mainstream radio. Thats hardly meant as negative: Navajo has the hook and dynamics that the several plodding mid-tempo tracks (Black Hill Smoke, The Nile) so badly lack.
Pool Party feels like an album trying to succeed. Thats always a recipe for failure, so its some small irony that the albums high point (Navajo) is the band trying its hardest. Maybe its the haphazardness of some of the writing on the rest of the record (We almost wrote the whole thing in the studio, Nash has boasted in interviews), or maybe its just that the talented young band is toying with so many influences that none end up feeling totally on point, but Pool Party feels just a little late to its own dreamy soiree.
Essential Track: “Navajo”