Editor's Note: RFC had it's first guest blogger in Abby Holmes but guess what? She became a regular contributor! So now, please welcome our (next) first guest blogger, Mike Roeder of Play B-Sides! To say we're happy to have the talented writer and photog is an understatement.
The great music finds for me are the ones that take me completely by surprise- a "nugget" that managed to evade my ever scanning doppler radar for music. The Place We Ran From (Mom + Pop Records) by Tired Pony is one of these releases and it has filled my head with music since my brother turned me on to it back in August when he heard the lead single "Dead American Writers" on satellite radio. I had a voicemail on my cell phone and a text message about this oddly-named band within minutes after he heard it!
A quick bit of searching turned up that Tired Pony is a supergroup (a word too-often used these days, I'm afraid) with the principle leaders of the group being Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol (of "Chasing Cars" fame) and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
Tired Pony is a thoroughbred with a notable pedigree.
Joining Lightbody and Buck at the reins is a surprisingly large cast of characters-- most of them have a tie to Snow Patrol or R.E.M. Scott McCaughey has been a regular contributor to R.E.M. since 1994 and a few of Buck's side projects (Tuatara, The Venus 3, The Baseball Project) and contributes his multi-instrument talents to the album. Richard Colburn notably from Belle & Sebastian provides drums and percussion-- he also provided drums on early Snow Patrol sessions, and both Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian were on indie label Jeepster early in their careers. Uber-producer Jacknife Lee produces the album as well as contributes guitars, vocals and keyboards. Lee has worked with both R.E.M. (and invited Buck and McCaughey to this project) and Snow Patrol and is producing their next efforts. The Place We Ran From also has some high-profile performances from She & Him (Zooey Deschanel providing harmonies on a couple of songs and M.Ward contributing some guitars) and Tom Smith from The Editors turns in one of my favorite vocal performances on the album on "The Good Book." Iain Archer provides lead vocals on "I Am A Landslide" as well as providing guitars and backing vocals as a core part of Tired Pony. Iain was a member of Snow Patrol and was a secondary songwriter for the band.
With all of this good breeding, it isn't surprising that this Pony is a shoo in.
Described by Lightbody in interviews as a "loveletter to America" the album is steeped in the Americana and alternative genres that he cites as influences.The album was created in the studio and mostly in one or two takes. The formula of bringing the skeletons of the songs and finishing them in the studio in this fashion contributes to a palpable sense of immediacy to the album. Normally, the involvement of this many contributors would risk having the album bear the burden of too much scrutiny.
Overall, the album has a definitive R.E.M. tone about it, which would have been hard to avoid due to Buck's involvement. In interviews with R.E.M., the band takes equal songwriting credit due to the fact that they tend towards a democratic approach to songs, but Buck claims it is his influence in the band that pushes the band towards more experimentation. In Tired Pony, Buck votes with his guitar and the chad hangs precariously in the Automatic for the People column.
This approach seems to work, however in one case-- "The Deepest Ocean There Is" which starts out as a circular and introspective song with a great reverb-drenched baritone guitar line confoundingly ends with about a minute of someone imitating a cat screeching.
A fantastic way to end this album.
For me, the album's debt to the legacy of R.E.M. through direct and indirect influence ultimately makes it resonate very strongly with me as a long-time fan of the band from Athens, GA. The fact of the matter is that I am kind of a lapsed fan of R.E.M. I effectively stopped listening to R.E.M. around the time of New Adventures in Hi-Fi for a number of reasons, but mostly because their direction was veering from my music tastes. I was never a follower of Snow Patrol, really, but obviously familiar with "Chasing Cars" which, in itself, was not enough of a motivator for me to start paying close attention to them. With the recent announcement that R.E.M.'s spring-2011 album to be titled Collapse Into Now is produced by Jacknife Lee, I'm hopeful that some of the magic of Tired Pony is transferred to it. The other members of Snow Patrol have stated that they are hopeful that some of the Tired Pony influence would show up on their next album as well.
So, with the win delivered by Tired Pony, it might just be the trifecta.