The beginning of New Young Pony Club’s new album is a zooming synth chord that fades into the distance before an urgent bass line comes in. Sound familiar? With the only difference being that there is now a bass guitar in place of an electric guitar, opener “Lost A Girl” is weirdly similar to “Get Lucky”, the opener of their debut album, the Mercury-Prize-nominated “Fantastic Playroom”. However, this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any progression since 2007 – it’s quite the opposite actually.
“Lost A Girl” is the opener to their sophomore effort, setting the dark disco tone for the rest of the record. It’s a slow-burning song that shows off the vocal talents of frontwoman Tahita Bulmer beautifully, as she moves from her usual drone to a softer tone with ease. If you wanted to take what NYPC do best and put into a bottle, the first 20 seconds of this opening track is what you’re searching for. The single “Chaos” moves back to what NYPC were doing on “Fantastic Playroom” – it sounds curiously like a combination of “Ice Cream” and “The Bomb” but somehow more grown-up and engaging. The title track is wonderful, with a lot of space to breathe and let the band show off what they’re capable of. If only they’d discovered this space on their first album, and they might have been a more memorable band at the time.
The range of musical styles that the band go through is wider on this album too. They had said that they were going to be influenced by PJ Harvey on this album, and it shows on “Stone”, the one track that is tinged with that kind of sadness that PJ is really good at – NYPC’s ballad is just as good, with its dark tones running wonderfully through the track.
Indeed, even lyrically the band are a lot freer and less concerned with trying to hide euphemisms under layers of strange words and phrases – instead they’re just telling it like it is, the frankness obvious even from the first track where Tahita asks, “I’m making you smile/Why am I doing that?” It’s a lot more welcome than some of the posturing they did on “Fantastic Playroom” (although it did work on “Ice Cream”, I’ll give them that).
The only real problem with “The Optimist” is that it is perhaps a little top-heavy when it comes to good tracks – although the album is really good all the way through it starts to run on empty slightly on the final three tracks. Perhaps spreading some of that brilliance through the whole work would have meant that the final third of the album was as indispensible as the first two thirds. But maybe this doesn’t really matter – I think it’s all great, and a giant progression from the early-80s tinged tunes they were makig to the more adult, more vital work that they’re making now. Kudos to NYPC.