New Young Pony Club

The Optimist

In Greek and Roman mythology, those brave tunesmiths who dared to question the melodious talents of the deity Apollo by fancying themselves superior on pipes or flute were forced into a musical duel. If they lost, the punishment was brutal. One challenger was flayed alive in the hollows of a cave as his blood coloured a nearby river red, and his skin was nailed to a nearby tree. In another such contest, a judge who challenged Apollo’s victory had his ears removed and given to a donkey.

New Young Pony Club may not live in an age where Apollo and his ilk rule the land – no matter how much lead singer <a href="" target="out"Ty Bulmer wishes she did – but there’s certainly something of the daring and defiant about their own return. And while they may not be risking quite the same penalties if it doesn’t all go to plan, the price of failure could still be calamitous. Following the sleeper success of ‘Ice Cream’, NYPC should have been the breakout stars of the dance-rock class of 2007, but Fantastic Playroom‘s lacklustre production and abundance of filler reduced them to sitting on the sidelines as the likes of Hot Chip and The Klaxons stole the glory. Now, returning three years later with the self-produced, released and funded The Optimist, there’s a lot to prove – and potentially, a lot to lose.

It’s clear NYPC are onto a winner, though, from the very moment the shimmering chords of opening track ‘Lost A Girl’ breathe into life. Hurtling along at breakneck speed before screeching to an abrupt halt a split-second before the piercing staccato synthesisers of the chorus kicks in, it lurches from giddy excitement to stomach-churning nausea just like the tale of doomed love Bulmer’s lyrics recall. While Fantastic Playroom often seemed to be stuck in an early 80s time loop, permanently rooted in a New Wave disco, The Optimist encompasses a broader, brighter musical spectrum. The straight lines have been replaced by a glorious wooziness, such as the eerily discordant vocals and thumping drum beat of the title-track. The playful instant gratification of ‘Ice Cream’, for example, is eschewed for tastier morsels, such as the irresistible allure of ‘We Want To’ or the bewitching adrenaline of ‘Dolls’. Both are every bit as delectable, but with a darker, more persistent flavour.

Yet Fantastic Playroom wasn’t short of pop bangers – it was having to plough through the filler that clogged ‘Jerk Me’ and ‘The Bomb’ that felt like a chore. The Optimist suffers from no such lulls. The superb ‘Before The Light’, with its glistening guitars and Bulmer’s droning, hypnotic vocal, is an undoubted highlight as she implores "Don’t look at me now/ Look at my intellect/ These things I leave behind like footsteps". Both ‘Stone’ and ‘The Architect’, meanwhile – the former a brooding love song, the latter a flash of flickering synthesisers and metal-on-bone guitars – are the tracks you need at your fingertips next time someone waffles on about the supposed brilliance of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ pompous balladry. They’re given their extra colouring, too, by Bulmer’s more transparent lyrics. While her aptitude for wordplay was evident on their debut, it was at times too arch, too knowing. This time around, with the simplicity of ‘Stone’ ("You’re stone, that’s what you are…You’re no better"), ‘The Architect’ ("This was broken from the start/ The blueprint had no art") and ‘Lost A Girl’ ("I’m kissing your hand, I’m making you smile/ Why am I doing that?"), there’s an honesty and vulnerability to match the wry dexterity.

More churlish listeners might contend that The Optimist isn’t without its flaws; that ‘Chaos’ is spawned from the same DNA that mapped Fantastic Playroom and that the likes of ‘Rapture’ err on the side of forgettable. But even if were to indulge these criticisms, this album is still an overriding triumph, and if Apollo were here to judge, we could certainly tell him he needn’t bother bringing his flaying kit. An early contender for Quietus album of the year? It wouldn’t be too optimistic to think so.

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