DRIFTLESS PONY CLUB – Cholera
(2006 Sector Five Records/ Two Thumbs Down Records)
After writing for Rick’s Café for over two years, I thought, foolishly, that I knew all the good Madison bands. I was wrong, because I had never heard Driftless Pony Club. Of course, they have now moved on to Chicago, so I suppose I can go back to my original flawed line of thinking. Luckily they are only a modest trip down the Interstate, so I can still look forward to seeing them rock the songs live that make up their terrific second release, Cholera. The overwhelming consensus of reviews thus far seems to be that Modest Mouse is the major influence, but the ghost of the Dismemberment Plan lurks in everything from the quirky lyrics to the herky-jerky rhythms.
In fact, in the course of one record they manage to parallel much of the DC band’s four-album career. Nowhere is this more obvious than on “Skeletons,” which could be an outtake from the The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified. While second track “Let’s Do This Here” recalls “Time Bomb” from the Plan’s more introspective final release, Change. And like them, DPC reels off lyrics much more intelligent and insightful than one would expect. “Mountains and Ruins” opens with a perfectly visualized, uncomfortably relatable scenario, “When we wake up / We’ll be naked / Unaccounted and embarrassed / For the sheets are relief maps / Of the landscapes we created.” Who hasn’t been there? Though I’ve never heard it phrased so well.
There is certainly merit to the Modest Mouse comparison. “Flip the Lever” and “Carry the Torch” are reminiscent of tracks like “The Ocean Breathes Salty” from MM’s hit-producing most recent release Good News for People Who Love Bad News. And that is good news; the layered vocals and propulsive guitars make for some ridiculously infectious rock. Final track “There Were Buffalo on the Ark” may the disc’s most ambitious, a head-nodding tune that starts as a simple guitar line with complex lyrics “Call my name when the ark starts to tip / And all the lesser animals flee from the ship / Call my name when your body’s a hearse / And you’ve folded your hands to create the church.” It grows into a body-grooving call-and-response before dissolving into a chaos of horns and voices.
The amusingly titled opening track “Inertia is a Bitch” proves they can be funny as well as smart. Opening line “I kicked her in the face” initially hints at misogynous thoughts, but it turns out it was just an accident, due to “a conversion van with no seat for this man” and a driver who “braked with sudden haste / Inertia is a bitch / turned my foot into a fist.” The quality of the songs on Cholera results from their democratic songwriting process in which every member- Craig Benzine on guitar/vocals, Matt Weber on guitar/keyboard, Nate Bartley on drums and Sam Grant on bass- has equal say. Though time consuming, this democracy has resulted in a tight and catchy release that renders the phrase “sophomore slump” obsolete.
Quite simply awesome.