Most bands would kill for the kind of buzz The Ponys created seemingly without effort when they debuted with Laced With Romance in 2004. Granted, much of the talk stayed within their hometown of Chicago, but by the time Celebration Castle came out in 2005, word had spread. It didn't hail The Ponys for their originality, but for their ability to make classic sounds punch listeners in the gut like their musical forebears Television, Sonic Youth, Voidoids, Dinosaur Jr., etc.
The praise guaranteed The Ponys wouldn't stay on tiny In The Red Records for long: Indie powerhouse Matador is releasing the new Turn The Lights Out. The move let the band spend more time with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Buffalo Tom), instead of the four days they reportedly had with Steve Albini during Celebration Castle. But the breathing room doesn't translate to left-field studio experimentalism; Agnello simply makes The Ponys sound even more like The Ponys. Considering his work with their influences, it's easy to hear Sonic Youth in "Poser Psychotic," or in "Pickpocket Song"'s four-minute, album-closing noisy instrumental jam. But it's also easy to hear The Ponys pushing against their boundaries; many songs show a technical musicality that other albums have only vaguely suggested. (A lot of credit for that probably goes to new second guitarist Brian Case, formerly of post-rock outfit 90 Day Men.)
During those moments, The Ponys really assert themselves. They still sound like imitators, but they're imitators moving toward a place they can call their own. Turn The Lights Out sounds like a transitional album in the best way—because it bodes well for what comes next.