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Pony Up

Stay Gold (independent)

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Like the band's name, Stay Gold has a multi-level function: It's a title. It's advice. And for Montreal indie-pop quartet Pony Up---whose stellar 2006 debut, Make Love to the Judges With Your Eyes, had the full label treatment---it's gotta be a mantra for a record that arrives as a CD-R in a DIY package. The 10 songs of Stay Gold explore relationships and it appears there have been a few bad ones in the years between albums. Songwriting and singing is handled by Laura Wills and Sarah Moundroukas, whose voices are similar and thus complimentary, with song tone flipping between angry/merciless ("Hush hush hush, little baby," they mock on "Manchild") and sad/repentant (as on "Two Squares," the coolest callback to "Careless Whisper" you've heard in 20 years). Where Make Love symbolized a natural growth from Pony Up's scrappy, inexperienced EP, Stay Gold is the sound of a band coming into its own. Aided by producer Murray Lightburn (The Dears), the singers' voices have been pushed to the front and given more weight. The songs are thrillingly structured, never more than on "Make More Beneath," which opens with a jaunty guitar riff and Wills calling a suitor a "dried-up loser," and climaxes in a driving, rhythmic jumble of words, ending on a fizzing-out keyboard line, as if the band has been literally drained of emotion. Polaris Prize, here's your winner.

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