Pool Party

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Ponderosa's first album, 2011's Joe Chiccarelli-produced Moonlight Revival, had a southern roots rock roadhouse sound with just a touch of country thrown in, a bit like an alt-country version of the Black Crowes. The group's second effort, Pool Party, released just a year later, is a whole other matter. Produced by Dave Fridmann of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fame, Pool Party is full of echoing vocals, muted guitars, backwards guitars, dreamy keyboards, neo-psychedelic touches and an air of care and importance that puts them a lot closer on this outing to a dollar store version of the Flaming Lips than it does the Blasters, say, and it is such a pronounced change of direction, it should almost be looked at as a different band, or a second debut album. It's beautifully recorded, sounding like it was tracked in the angels' own heavenly pool room, and the vocals soar and echo in space like the angels singing, but somehow it lacks clarity, drifting along in its own sonic zone without bothering to ground itself to mere earth very often. Call it southern gothic dream pop, if you will, but this is a band that knew how to rock, and there's not much of that in evidence on Pool Party. The most successful tracks, like the skewed pop of "Never Come Back" or the R.E.M.-like title tune, still retain a little of the roots and energy the band showed on its first album. So there's no mistake, this is an impressive sounding album, and obviously lovingly put together, but any ragged edges that remain seem deliberately placed, and the end result is a muted soundscape that will please dream pop fans but probably won't get anyone up and moving their feet. The question now is, which is the real Ponderosa? Perhaps the third album's a charm.

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