Lake Street Dive – Side Pony

Album Review by Aidan Ryan | 03 Feb 2016
Album title: Side Pony
Artist: Lake Street Dive
Label: Nonesuch Records
Release date: 19 Feb

As comfortable playing the heartbroken as the heartbreaker, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price, with gospel pipes and an old-school jazz sensibility, manages to capture love in our post-postmodern age – all the whimsy and wistfulness, our curious clumsiness, the velleities and the rash decisions and the regrets and lack thereof – better than any of our sterile chart-topping pop songstresses.

On the lovelorn So Long she doesn’t compete with Adele so much as stand shoulder-to-side pony with Sinatra. On the raucous and candid Hell Yeah she reminds us that she isn’t a “sex symbol” (a term bankrupt in 2016) so much as a lightning rod for a young century’s sexual static energy. And on Mistakes she follows Mike 'McDuck' Olson’s gorgeous trumpet intro to craft a wedding song that you’ll dance with yourself, barefoot on a cold kitchen floor, waiting for the wrong call. For these reasons Lake Street Dive’s Side Pony, their first release with Nonesuch Records, isn’t just a fun album – it’s culturally important, documenting 2016 in a way Billboard’s Hot 100 just can’t.

For years the cynosure Price has made it too easy for some of us to forget that Lake Street Dive is a group effort, an irrepressible foursome whose distinctive charm comes less from their summed individual talents than their remarkable collective charisma, evident in live shows, albums, Instagram posts, and their famous annual Halloween covers. Their latest release makes this clearer than ever.

Side Pony stomps out thumping and jangling with Godawful Things, sure to please fans eager for more upbeat soulful singalongs like those on Bad Self Portraits. The band covers a lot of familiar territory in just 3 minutes and 47 seconds: hand claps and shimmery oohs, joyous keys, a cathedral half-time breakdown; creative tension between loss and rediscovery, between the Beatles, the Brill Building, and Bessie Smith. Like most LSD songs we’ve come to love since the band’s rise in popularity around 2011, Side Pony is packed with tunes you’ll want to sing along to before you know any of the words.

But there’s also more sonic muscle here, immediately evident in the lo-fi bass sound that opens the record, crunchier and siltier than anything we’ve heard from Bridget Kearney before. The band also gives greater play to their diverse influences, letting them not just color but now shape songs on Side Pony. Take the Rolling Stones-style blues on I Don’t Care About You. Or Call Off Your Dogs, with a funky Supremes beat laid over shameless polyester Mellotron strings. Sure, the pseudo-Batucada breakdown doesn’t really make sense… but oh, what the hell, you might call it one of the album’s many side ponies. Then there’s Can’t Stop, which shocks: the intro is like Curtis Mayfield and John Barry having a pillow-fight through one of Dr. Dre’s daydreams.

That said, this is still the band that can slay a stripped-down street corner cover of I Want You Back. Some critics wished that, after Bad Self Portraits, Lake Street Dive would move back in that direction, but, as if literally channeling the energy of their growing fanbase, they’ve made a record that, though occasionally coltish, is louder, bolder, wider, and weirder than any before, right down to Mike Calabrese’s seemingly random, galloping conga solo that follows Saving All My Sinning’s massive gospel chorus and closes out the record.

It’s yet another side pony – and it’s hard not to love it. The Nonesuch pairing is promising, Side Pony proves. As Price wails on the last track, “This is only the beginning” – and it sounds like they still have plenty of sinning saved up for a wildly entertaining album tour.