Band names fall into hundreds of different categories, from pop culture references (Au Revoir Simone) to names created just to please the ear (Mates of State). In the case of indie super-group Tired Pony, the name stems from the sound, which in this case is the dominating mood of the music. The image conjured by the name is one of an overworked, overburdened animal, sides bruised by the scores of impatient children it has balanced on its back. And the set of songs it refers to is one marked by a comparable weariness, a kind of premature ageing, a sudden and insisting exhaustion.
Anyone who has heard Gary Lightbody live knows that he has got some serious pipes. So, the prospect of the Irishmen's voice placed in a new context is something to get excited about, especially because that new context includes members of Belle & Sebastian and R.E.M. But Tired Pony doesn't deliver any dramatic changes, with melodies and rhythmic patterns often reminiscent of Lightbody's work as Snow Patrol's lead singer. Their innovation is the addition of bluegrass instrumentation - mandolins and dobros, banjos and fiddles. The movement from Snow Patrol to Tired Pony is still a lateral one for Lightbody, particularly when it comes to his songwriting. Fans of his work will recognize the "lovers in a storm" imagery in album opener "Northwestern Skies" from A Hundred Million Suns' "Lightning Strike," explored in fairly similar ways.
The Place We Ran From, released this month, disappoints in that it seems to satisfy an emotional impulse more so than a creative one. Weariness is not uncommon in the musical world; the constant traveling and pressure of being under observation tend to foster that kind of exhaustion. But ideally, the music should transcend that restlessness, that unhappiness, by operating on a creative level. It could offer some sort of redemption, an exit strategy. This is not the case for Tired Pony, who often seem to let the emotions drive (rather than simply inspire) their music. Though the songs do arrive to some sort of cathartic height every so often, the builds are too slow and we may find ourselves waiting through the first three minutes of "Get On The Road" to get to the last minute and a half. The Place We Ran From can feel somewhat like it's indulging the weariness, like it glamorizes the gloom.
Of course, there are some high points to the album that make it worthwhile, and worth the wait for those of you who are stateside (US release is set for September 28th). When the album does swell to the aforementioned, much anticipated cathartic heights, it really is quite good. All in all though, it is time for Lightbody to move out of his comfort zone of moody musicality.
Melany's grade: C+