By Chris Osifchin
What the hell is a side pony? Is it something like a sidecar for a horse – a literal side pony? Is it like a side chick (okay, that’s kind of derogatory)? No, it’s exactly what you’d expect – a ponytail that sits on the side of your head. Oh, and it also happens to be the name of Lake Street Dive’s latest effort, as well as a kind of rallying cry for the 12 year old band based out of Brooklyn. Asking fans to post their “side pony” on social media, the band says the side pony is whatever makes you, well, you. In the midst of this social media party, Lake Street Dive happened to drop what may be one of the best albums of the year in Side Pony.
Lake Street Dive laid the groundwork for this album in 2014 with Bad Self Portraits. Featuring an undeniably catchy retro vibe, the album helped the band gain a serious following. I’ll never forget the buzz that ripped through the Bonnaroo campgrounds in 2014 after their Thursday set, just four months removed from the release of Bad Self Portraits. Everyone in the campgrounds was saying “Did you see Lake Street Dive? They were unbelievable.” If you missed their set, it was one of your biggest mistakes of that weekend.
While Side Pony is not the most anticipated rock album of the year, it is certainly going to make a few year end best-of lists. Staying true to the meaning of side pony, this album is a unique, diverse collection of songs wrapped into forty minutes of bliss. The sixties pop sensibilities are there, but Lake Street Dive is more than just a throwback to AM radio.
Sure, the girl groups of the sixties featured great singers. But frontwoman Rachael Price has never shown better range on an album than she does here. It’s a treat to listen to her soulful, sultry singing, especially on songs like “How Good It Feels” and “Mistakes.” The band is more than Price though – the harmonies from the rest of the band take the album to another level. There’s nothing more beautiful than a bunch of humans singing in perfect harmony, while simultaneously jamming the hell out.
Lake Street Dive shows a great range in more than just vocals. On first listen, the album seemed to jump all over the place stylistically. After subsequent listens, the songs all form a cohesive whole. It makes sense for the band to be flexible, as the members are all professionally trained musicians, but there are few bands that can simultaneously include a Paul McCartney/Beatles-esque song and then jump to funk on the next cut. Hell, I bet Paul McCartney is one of the few performers that can even do it at all. The gusto and the urgency that appears on this album is a good band coming into it’s own to become a great one.
A particularly good example of what Lake Street Dive has perfected is the song “Spectacular Failure.” In a similar musical vein to “Bobby Tanqueray” off Bad Self Portraits – think major-key pop – “Spectacular Failure” tells the story of a lover with flair and humor. It seems that the Bobby from Bad Self Portraits has lost his touch and is now a completely inept lover. The band is so keyed into this type of song. It’s their bread and butter. The fact that they can write a song so upbeat, with lyrics that are relatable, but also funny, is increasingly rare.
While the album is a fantastic showcase for the band, the only potential speed bump for Lake Street Dive is that this is basically the third iteration of their original release. While it’s certainly a perfection of the previous two, stylistically and lyrically, the band needs to break some new ground sonically to continue to impress.
Even though Lake Street Dive probably won’t get much radio play, and AM radio doesn’t play music anymore, Side Pony deserves a spot in your 6 CD changer, your iPhone, or your Spotify playlists. With just enough of a fresh take on their original two discs, Side Pony will have you saying “Hell Yeah!”
Rating 8 out of 10