Here lay the sweaty palm anthems of anxiety, broken drums and out of tune organs, lo-fi nostalgia of spinning records and sleeping in the moonlight, a lyrical bouquet on fuzzy violins, barn side folk and the smell of old guitars, the perfectionists' imperfection that shines like a sea of broken glass or other useless beauties. A most meaningful followup to the last record through whistling tape machines and stained glass.
Cleveland, Ohio’s self-described “dirty indie pop” outfit Extra Medium Pony are back with their first release since their stellar sophomore album, 2016’s Meaninglessness, and it’s an anxiety-ridden relationship reckoning.
“Something Beautiful”–premiering today on American Songwriter with an accompanying video–is the lead single off the band’s forthcoming LP, Traffic. It’s a nervy indie rock number built around frontman Rick Spitalsky’s stinging poetry and pop-punk guitar hooks.
“Can you send me a picture of your face in the rain / Magnifying droplets that bend light across the frame,” Spitalsky sings in the track’s opening lines. One gets the sense that he’s writing of and from a desire to connect, but somehow failing: “I wanted to show you the inside of my brain / All my colors on display unobscured by the shade.”
The song reaches a crescendo as Spitalsky repeats the refrain “I see a difference” over and over again, stretching out every word over increasingly anxious string and drum parts. A guitar wails, then all the instruments cut out. It’s hard not to hear echoes of Weezer in the song’s most thrashing moments.
Spitalsky delivers the song’s final, devastating verse in a faint voice: “You slit your wrists and all the flowers came down / Found a twinkle in your eyes like the carcass of a crown / The weekends driving to motels all the same / The smell of mildew, floral patterns, and woodgrain.”
The video cuts between shots of the band performing in a practice space, cartoon clips, and extreme close-ups of Spitalsky’s facial features.
“I feel like my life is becoming a cartoon,” Spitalsky tells American Songwriter of his inspiration for the video. “I seem to only identify with cartoon humor–maybe as a safety mechanism to protect me from the harshness and cruel reality that is our current political state.”
Extra Medium Pony began as a solo project, but has expanded over the years to become a quintet. Spitalsky is credited with writing, recording, and producing Traffic, and playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, melodica, lap steel, and chord organ on the record. The band is rounded out by Juan Granda on drums, David McHenry on bass, Nick Tolar on guitar, and Aric Hines on keyboard. Traffic also features contributions from Liz Kelly (vocals), Clayton Heur (violin), Mike Allen (cello), and James Grossenheider (synthesizer).
Traffic is Extra Medium Pony’s third album following 2016’s Meaninglessness and 2012’s 11868. Spitalsky–who has a condition called phobic anxiety–found it especially difficult to leave his house while working on Traffic. He recorded and produced the record in his basement, ultimately naming it after his largest source of his anxiety. With “Something Beautiful,” Spitalsky has harnessed the feelings that usually confine him–nervousness; panic; a sense of doom–to craft something raw and affecting.