Foreign Life opens like a newspaper, words and images materialize before the eyes and vanish instantly, leaving you with a trace of their meaning. Distant voices fade in, thoughts like wisps of smoke curl off of a buoyant electronic pulse, compelling you to let the paper fall and dream deep in your armchair. But Pony Girl (So Sorry Recs) know about your attention span, and they will make sure you listen. The motorik beat that occurs around the halfway mark of album opener “Foreign Life I” feels like a logical extension of the dreamy waves that precede it. Right away one is introduced to the painterly aesthetic of Pony Girl and the palette they will use on this album.
Foreign Life, the sophomore album from the Ottawa band, is a collage of emotion and style, well lit and finely mounted. Each song a small canvas with a dramatic point of focus, be it rolling acoustic guitar, electronic beat or voice. Sugary pop tunes leap out of synthscapes and run naked through your ears. Pony Girl appear to have passed through the recent New Folk movement carrying a pastel distillation of its crucial elements. The elegant arrangement of acoustic and electronic, the sighing winds and the seething synths, it harks familiar yet is presented in a uniquely stream-lined form.
Of the 14 tracks, each runs under five minutes, and each explores different possibilities within the band’s singular aesthetic vision. It is a fine way to dress the themes of joining, separation and domestic treachery that recur throughout. “Dirty Pictures” presents its sordid tale as from a flickering projector, a metronomic beat threads its way through the flashes of guitar chords in strobing stutters. The instrumental “Hamady” with its plaintive lull of wind and strings could be the intro to a lost Nouvelle Vague film from the 60s. The band moves through these styles with a keen ear for progression and sonic narrative, the jumps never feel forced.
The album was recorded and produced by the bandmembers themselves and what impresses most is the control they exercise over the songs. Whereas artworks often blur to the eyes of their artists after so long staring, here Pony Girl practises quiet restraint, leaving plenty of sonic space for their songs to slide through. For all its wonderful, detailed production, however, I found the minimal “Demon Dream” to be the album’s most powerful moment. The simple self-accompaniment and lo-fi, faded quality lends an immediate frailty to the song, as though poised at the edge of collapse, and makes lyrics like “pictures in my head, of people from the past” perfectly connected in the instance of performance.
Foreign Life is an album alive with colour and light, even at its darkest moments. I’d wager a Colville coin that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Pony Girl. Have a listen below.
Purchase the digital, CD, and vinyl LP copies of Pony Girl’s Foreign Life on their Bandcamp site here.