The all-female band, while still statistically rare, has had its share of success. From the girl-groups of the ’60s to the Go-Go’s in the ’80s and then on to Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, the Donnas and the Like, estrogen-fueled rock continues to grow exponentially. One of the latest and most interesting of the double-X chromosome acts is Pony Up, hailing from Montreal. `Discovered’ by Ben Lee, this quartet was given the b-side to his 7″ single cover of Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” with its memorable title, “You Got Some Action (Let’s Talk Baseball).” Then signed to Lee’s Ten Fingers label, a division of Dim Mak, the foursome released their debut EP / mini-album, Pony Up!, which featured their unabashed love song to Matthew Modine. Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes is the band’s full-length debut, one finding their songwriting taking a more serious turn, while still maintaining their innocent charms.
Guitarist Sarah Moundroukas and keyboardist Laura Wills trade off vocals throughout the album, yet both have similar qualities to their voices, to the point that, without the aid of the liner notes or repeated listens, one might not be able to tell the difference. Songs by both can be poignant, sad and profound while telling a simple story. Even the handwritten lyrics in the liner notes give some insight into the album. The cursive is straight out of fifth grade penmanship lessons, with what appears to be each female lead writing their own words. So there’s at least one other way to differentiate the pair, through graphology. These two voices are what make the music of Pony Up so endearing. Like that dog. before them, vocals consist of a mix between a kind of talk-singing and gentle harmonies. Their effervescent indie-pop charisma comes through in songs like “The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Is That They Die)” when Moundroukas emphasizes a pause between the two syllables of the word `buttons,’ and jubilantly issues the repeated phrase, `parade me around.’ Not every song on Make Love is as cheery (and even “Cats and Dogs” seems just bouncy on the surface), with most songs having to do with the pain of love and lost love.
Several songs’ lyrics would make our favorite sad sacks like Ben Gibbard and Lou Barlow proud such as in “Only Feelgood,” when Laura Wills opens with “When you draw me, you draw me crying,” and follows up later with “I’ve got a story in my head `bout a boy who plays house and a girl who plays dead.” That’s a long way from the schoolgirl crushes on Matthew Modine. It’s more like the aftermath of the horrible breakup; where once there was love and adolescent fantasy, now there is pain and the reality that some relationships just don’t work out. There is more than one occasion in which the girls sing from the point of view of one stuck in a losing situation. In “What’s Free Is Yours,” Moundroukas ends with the line, “I don’t care if you break my heart.” In “Ships,” she sings, “by now you’ve noticed that I don’t desert a sinking ship. I go down.” After Wills tells her man that he’s crazy in “Make, Model, #,” she intones, “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”
With their full-length debut, Pony Up have, just like someone who has learned valuable life lessons after a bad relationship, grown up a little bit. Taking the extremes of the songwriting maturity scale, with say Smoosh at one end and Dylan on the other, Pony Up are somewhere in between, past the point of playing soccer with friends, but also not yet having to go through the tragedy of a bitter divorce. That being said, Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes is a particularly strong pop album, powered by the voices of a pair of lovelorn ingénues, who present their diary-like thoughts through exceedingly catchy music and melodic harmonies.