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An Electrified Mantra, Straight out of the '90s

The Ponys' members would have felt at home on a Lollapalooza stage in 1993.
The Ponys' members would have felt at home on a Lollapalooza stage in 1993.

There's something familiar about "Poser Psychotic," one of the highlights of a new album by Chicago indie-rock band The Ponys. The two guitars create a dense blare, the rhythm section throbs with low-end gristle, and singer Jered Gummere intones in a slacker drone. The song doesn't have a chorus — it's more an electrified mantra than a traditional pop tune — but it's compelling nonetheless, and in ways that feel eerily recognizable.

Then it becomes clear: To hear it is to be transported to one of many nights spent standing in clubs in the early to mid-'90s, when countless bands crafted a mammoth, pulsating sound that took the basics of '80s indie-rock and injected musical steroids into them. Of course, it wasn't often called "indie rock" back then; the term was "alternative rock." It's easy to imagine "Poser Psychotic" blaring from a stage on one of the early Lollapalooza tours, The Ponys sandwiched between, say, Eleventh Dream Day and Hole.

If such a song had been released five years ago, it would have seemed like a pointless rehash. At this particular moment, though, it feels strangely, wonderfully refreshing. After all, the new wave of upstart godheads does its best to avoid the cliches of the genre — see: The Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady, et al — and create something grander. But these bands can also come off as self-conscious in the process: The effort is palpable. The Ponys' members don't seem encumbered by concerns about whether music bloggers will love or hate them. They simply want to kick out the indie-rock (um, alt-rock) jams, and to make fans stand with their hands in their front pockets and nod their heads, just like in the old days.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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David Browne
David Browne is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and the author of Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth and Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Spin and other outlets.