Tired Pony is the latest in the supergroup phenomenon, where members of hugely successful bands come together to see if they can make beautiful music together. In this case, you have the lead singer of Snow Patrol, Gary Lightbody, fellow bandmate Iain Archer, R.E.M.’s guitarist Peter Buck, uber producer Jacknife Lee, Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows among other collaborators.
Now, I know I should have kept expectations low. While Reese’s has shown us that putting two great things together can make an even better thing, other collaborations have been less successful (Ebony and Ivory, anyone?). But from the first note, of their debut album “The Place We Ran From,” I realized that this was a dream grouping. This is one of those cases where the total really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Their music is lush and atmospheric. It’s deep and evocative. It’s the musical equivalent of an all day spa visit followed by fifteen minutes with the Dalai Lama – soothing, relaxing, reinvigorating. But the lyrics are sometimes more restless than restive, as they speak of failed relationships or struggles to make those relationships somehow work. Lightbody is quoted as calling the album “a twisted love-letter to the States,” but it seems more like a twisted love-letter to love.
The album starts with Northern Skies, Lightbody singing nearly a cappella, all echo-y and distant, then the music comes in, and it’s haunting and mysterious. The song is full of regret and disappointment. The next track is Get on the Road and this duet with She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel that is sensual and plaintive. “You are the drug that I can’t quit. Your perfect chaos is a perfect fit.” The lovers sing together about their yearning as they find themselves inexorably connected. They seem to be making a more satisfying and permanent connection in their next duet on Point Me at Lost Islands, a lovely country-tinged song backed by the stringed instrument trifecta — mandolin, banjo and fiddle. But thanks to the vocals it’s more folk than honky-tonk.
The most radio-friendly song on the album is the too short Dead American Writers. It’s ridiculously catchy, rollicking and propulsive. It’s a tip of the hat to the writers who have inspired the Irish Lightbody. Iain Archer takes over the vocals on I am a Landslide, a Neil Young-esque, folk-country song that boasts no fewer than fifteen musicians to create this sweet, simple tune.
The last song on the album is Pieces and it is a glorious way to end this stunning debut. The urgent drumming underscoring the gentle piano, Lightbody’s muffled voice singing “The pieces of your heart collapse to the sound of beating drums” is truly hypnotic. More layers of music come in and the song becomes even more mesmerizing. Then the discordant instruments join in and it’s unsettling – in a good way.
If you want introspective lyrics, folksy-atmospheric rock, and layers of sound, Tired Pony’s “The Place We Ran From,” is your album.