One of the most common downfalls of indie music criticism is that dark, introspective music tends to receive the most rapturous acclaim. Music that is lighter, intended for more simple enjoyment is often cast aside in favour of the latest opus. As such, bands that display substantial creativity and technical skill can be ignored, and Lake Street Dive are very susceptible to this.
The band’s brand of soul rock is energetic and fun, but it lacks the defining gimmick that more popular bands from the genre exhibit. Alabama Shakes have their earthy intimacy, Hiatus Kaiyote have their devilishly complex song structures. By contrast, Lake Street Dive’s music can seem almost simplistic. However, Side Pony betrays that this is by design, as the 12 songs on the record display immense technical skill, and an endless sense of invention.
The title track sets a strong tone of playful fun for the record. The lyrics – “I rock a side pony” – at first seem to be an ode to a haircut, but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to something of a manifesto for the band. The record often deals with self-expression and confidence, and Rachael Price’s warm voice keeps the mood light, and prevents the proceedings from becoming too serious. The chorus of Hell Yeah is literally just the title, chanted, as a response to Price being asked “if you wanna spend the night”. The mood is celebratory and jubilant, with chunky guitar chords and blustering drums, and it fits the confident, open-minded theme of the song.
The slower songs aren’t quite as successful, however. So Long is appropriately somber for a tune about romantic regret, but the band’s playing feels overly formal for the track. Price’s voice, whilst approachable and sweet on other songs, lacks the gravitas to convey the sorrow of the lyrics. Mistakes suffers largely the same fate, although it’s horn melody is a nice change of pace, on the largely guitar driven album.
Occasional misfires aside, Side Pony is a fun, energetic album of soulful rock songs. Price’s lyrics about self-determination are admirable, and her voice anchors the music into a relatable place. As the funky and dynamic band plays around her, she keeps them grounded. Lake Street Dive have succeeded at creating another collection of fun songs, and they are a consistent band that should continue to do good work for years to come.