Ryan and Pony are the husband-wife team that recorded seven albums as dual lead vocalists of Minneapolis’ The Melismatics. When The Melismatics slowed down their touring schedule in 2013, the two began working on new material, working toward an album as a duo. Then, in 2016, Ryan began performing with Soul Asylum, setting the album project aside. However, after the completion of Soul Asylum’s Hurry Up and Wait album, Ryan and Pony resumed work on Moshi Moshi, which was released on Pravda Records on September 25, 2020.
Fun, catchy rock and roll. Moshi Moshi is a collection of raucous, hooky, alt rock-influenced, mainstream, guitar-driven, radio-friendly rock and roll tunes with a big sound that packs an immense punch. From beginning to end, on my very first listen, I was blown away. Slick production, booming power hooks, liberal use of every sonic trick in the alt pop-rock magic kit, songs that don’t develop exactly the way you expect them to and, instead, create their own better, unique entities. This is one of my favorite rock and roll albums of 2020.
“Starry Eyes” opens things up with alt-rock melancholy vocals spread on an ’80s-influenced pop-rock-meets-a-twirling-carnival cracker.
“Start Making Sense” is full of crunchy guitar riffs and hooks, a catchy number that churns forward, almost as if an anthem, if not for the chorus and verses, which position it more as a big-feelings song. “Start Making Sense” seems like a thoughtful tune, but it only dodges around its thoughts, leaving a great deal for interpolation. Still, it’s wicked catchy.
“Fast As I Can” sports a pair of jangly guitar bits that combine with the softly aggressive vocal delivery to produce yet another very original piece of rock ‘n roll. Ryan and Pony’s music is all so familiar – like the short bridge in “Fast As I Can” that actually recalls the sax portion of Duran Duran’s “Rio,” though that’s where that particular comparison begins and ends – yet always so very original.
The opening riffs and rhythm of “Thunderlove” suggest The Cars – yet another “I’ve heard that before” moment – but the song as a whole is a pleasant, fun, lightly energetic alt-rock ditty. And there are other bits of music in the song that recall favorite bands of past and present, as if Ryan and Pony have assembled all of our favorite rock music from disparate subgenres into big, fun songs… again and again throughout Moshi Moshi.
“Be Still My Baby,” up next, opens as a ’50s rock-style crooner, and that vibe remains throughout, but it’s updated and combined with elements of more modern rock ‘n roll. Of course.
“Cinematic” follows with an abrupt opening and a sparse music bed before going all “what if Madonna wrote an actual rock song?” In other words, the pop music influence is strong on “Cinematic,” though it’s one of those cool pop record “deep cuts,” a pop song a little too slow-tempo to be a radio hit but not slow enough to be a ballad.
“First Night” rocks in a psychedelic classic rock manner in and around its punk-ish alt-rock beat. “Trouble in Mind”, meanwhile, reverts to old-school pop-rock, with lush vocals and a Barenaked Ladies-ish cadence. Very, very cool.
“Low” is a relatively straightforward low-end-cool alt-rocker, while “Take It Or Leave It” follows with a much more herky-jerky rhythm. If there’s one constant to the alt-rock subgenres on Moshi Moshi, it’s change. (And talent, but I chose to review this album, so that goes without saying.)
Speaking of constant change, the next track, the penultimate song on the disc, “Come Find Me” is eerily reminiscent of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” Not quite as lush as Berlin’s soundbed, but a sweetly pleasant song well-deserving of major movie credit-roll placement.
Finally, did I mention Ryan and Pony are from Minneapolis? Well, I think it’s a local ordinance that Twin Cities rock bands a required to cover a Prince song. And it’s pretty cool hearing this rendition of “I Would Die 4 U.” Ryan and Pony bring a different vibe to the classic pop-rock hit – a poppier vibe with thinner instrumentation, especially (though not just) in the verses, that shows off their raw, lonesome version of the tune’s guitar line a bit more. And unless I’m crazy there’s something about the rhythm and supporting instrumentation that reminds me of Modern English a little. (Granted, I might be crazy.)
Ryan and Pony sound like every hooky, guitar-based, radio-friendly, alternative pop-rock band you’ve ever loved but not exactly like anyone else. They’re all over the map yet cohesive, with a sound you’ll instantly recognize. And they write fun, catchy songs. All those things together are why Moshi Moshi is must-hear.
Publisher’s Note: For those trying to track how far I’ve progressed in emptying my review backlog from the last 3 years – my 2 1/2 year unplanned relative absence from reviewing recorded music (though other Blog contributors did) plus 6 months of making progress on the favorites I set aside during that time – don’t be fooled by this album’s release date. I had a pre-release review copy of this disc, so dial the calendar back a couple additional months. In normal times, this review would have published on the album’s release date. But yeah, I’m making headway. And I am now well into music I’ve received since I was able to start reviewing again, so that’s good news. – GW