Written by Gabe Fine

Lake Street Dive’s third album Side Pony moves away from the jazz-pop that drove the band’s 2014 breakthrough album, Bad Self Portraits. Instead, the Berklee College of Music students have created an album that infuses fuzzy electric guitars with pop riffs that could have come right out of the ‘70s disco scene.

The album starts off with “Godawful Things,” which immediately tells you that this album will be different than Portraits. The rock and roll bass line, supported by an organ and electric guitar, might as well be from a different band, until frontwoman Rachael Price’s strong voice reminds us who we are listening to. Lake Street Dive is back, this song tells us, and though their style is different (even moving into a gospel-choir-like bridge at one point), the talent and catchiness that made them so appealing before is certainly still present.

The album then moves into “Close to Me,” a slow jam with a guitar riff that might have fit well into Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, minus Roger Waters’ eerie British touch. It is obvious that Lake Street is clearly exploring their sixties and seventies rock influences. Then, however, the album takes a turn with the infectiously catchy “Call off Your Dogs.” The song, which was the album’s single, jumps right into a seventies pop melody, full of strings and a warbling synth riff. It even has a cowbell break that accompanies a guitar riff reminiscent of the Jackson 5. Lake Street is clearly making their wide range of influences known, as well as their ability to successfully play those different styles.

And then, just like that, we are back with a Bonnie Raitt-like rock groove, “Spectacular Failure,” which is supported by their well-loved horn section. The album continues to vacillate between this electric, classic rock sound, and the ‘70s pop feel, and all the while Lake Street Dive adds their own special touch to the songs.

The weakest songs are “I Don’t Care About You” and “How Good it Feels.” The former starts out promising but in the end feels fragmented, and the latter has an excellent verse supported by an uninteresting chorus. However, in between those two weaker songs lies the gem, “So Long,” a beautiful slow song that sports a James Taylor-esque acoustic guitar line overlaid with vocals that might be inspired by Phoebe Snow.

The last five songs of the album are all strong, most notably so the title track, as well as “Mistakes” and “Can’t Stop.” “Side Pony” is more of a straight-up pop song than any of the others on the album, and could probably make Top 40 if that were possible. The goofy lyrics are about nothing in particular, and that is probably the point: “I rock a side pony, baby I’m just living my life,” Price tells us, and we love her for it. “Mistakes,” on the other hand, is the only song that might have fit well on Portraits. The melodic horn melody takes us back to that soft quasi-jazz sound that gave this band the renown it now has. “Can’t Stop,” in a whole different vein, is a funky R&B song that N.W.A. probably would have liked to sample.

Throughout the album, Lake Street never strays too far into dissonant rock, and has fun with their pop-rhythms. All in all, one can always return to Price’s exceptional voice, which would probably carry any band, let alone one with the talent that Lake Street Dive clearly has.

Rating: 8/10

Leave a Reply