A very enticing blend of louche rock’n’roll and beguiling psychedelic folk.
VAR! is the curiously titled second album from Pony Hunt, a shifting ensemble which is basically a vehicle for Jessie Antonick’s slightly surreal blend of hazy psychedelic folk and 1950s rock’n’roll. She’s blessed with a great set of musicians drawn from New Orleans (including Sam Doores and Dan Cutler from The Deslondes, Duff Thomson and Steph Green) who are able to play torch song styled ballads, surf rock of sorts and baroque folk, all equally well.
The album opens with a pair of songs which might well have been used by David Lynch to entertain the customers of the rowdy roadhouse in Twin Peaks. ‘Pulse’ sways wonderfully with a faded 50s allure while ‘Stardust’ has melodramatic percussion and surf guitar underscoring her excellent voice as she sings about embracing her queer identity. Later in the album, ‘That Feelin’’ is a slow waltz with Link Wray-like guitar rumbles and a fantastically wobbly guitar solo with Antonick variously channelling Wanda Jackson and Ricky Nelson. Meanwhile, ‘Last of My Kind’ (written by Paul Burch) limps along wonderfully as the band expertly achieve such a loose cohesion that one fears the song could fall apart at almost any moment – surely a measure of how good they are.
Elsewhere, the songs are more dreamlike and wispy. ‘Open The Gates’ is reminiscent of Mazzy Star and the string arrangement on the carousel like ‘Who Are You’ casts us back to much more innocent times when the likes of Vashti Bunyan roamed the land. The high point is achieved on the delicate swoon of ‘Rise’ which, with gentle puffs of organ wafting glorious harmonies aloft, is quite superb. It’s not too surprising to find that both ‘Rising Sun’ and ‘Rocket Ship’ recall Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, given that several of the band here have played with her over the years.
It’s probably fair to say that if you like Hurray For The Riff Raff, then you’ll like this album. Antonick sings wonderfully and, as we’ve said, the band are quite excellent. There’s a nostalgic bent to some of it but it sounds, at times perfect. As for the album title, it refers to an accidental discovery by astronomer, Edwin Hubble in 1923. Look it up if you will but buy the album first.