Critical Voices: Lake Street Dive, Side Pony

February 23, 2016

Nonesuch Records

If there’s one word to describe Side Pony, it’s different. On the cusp of mainstream success, Lake Street Dive has refused to repeat themselves and this record takes their sound in a new direction. Eclectic as ever, their third album conserves Lake Street Dive’s jazz base and draws on rock and R&B influences. Side Pony is a masterful work of instrumental and thematic breadth that showcases the band’s versatility.

Nonesuch Records

Lake Street Dive formed more than a decade ago when Rachael Price (lead vocals), Mike “McDuck” Olson (guitar, trumpet), Bridget Kearney (bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums) met at the New England Conservatory, where they were studying jazz. After such a long time together, many bands would have settled into a characteristic style, but not Lake Street Dive. They set out to make something different, and with the help of producer Dave Cobb, they achieved it. This album has more of a focused theme, revolving mostly around new and lost love. As for the music, McDuck, Calabrese, and Kearney experiment with new instruments, Price’s rich vocals cover more ground than in previous albums, and each song as a whole feels more richly layered, likely thanks to Cobb’s influence.

Side Pony does draw on Lake Street Dive’s strengths from previous albums, but this record is closely aligned with its disco and rock and roll influences. The songs make ample use of instruments like the Moog synthesizer and the Rhodes piano, creating that synth feeling characteristic of disco. Gospel-style background vocals are sprinkled throughout the record, evoking rock and roll as well as their jazz foundation.

“Spectacular Failure” represents the light-hearted nature that Side Pony is named for, maybe even more than “Side Pony” itself. Both songs are among the lighter tracks on the record, despite the somewhat mean-spirited lyrics of the former. Their whimsical air is present in the lyrics as well as the music. The repetitive rhyme schemes give them a playful quality, which is also created by the instruments, from the groove of the guitars and bass to the shakers and tambourine.

Side Pony is a step forward for Lake Street Dive. They set out to create something new, and this record undoubtedly succeeds.

Voice’s Choices: “Can’t Stop,” “Spectacular Failure,” “Side Pony”

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