French quintet Poni Hoax could quite plausibly be described as their country’s slightly belated response to the Rapture and their dance-punk brethren, only with a little less punk and a lot more Moroder. This formula holds, in any case, for the group’s finest moments, when they marry the grandiose sweep of Euro-disco with a decidedly Anglo broodiness, the latter manifest primarily in vocalist Nicholas Ker’s Paul Banks-doing-Ian Curtis-meets-Nick Cave wail. While the band serves up more than a few dance anthems, Images of Sigrid is ultimately rooted more in mainstream New Wave synth-pop than the hipper post-punk that their artsy posturing might lead one to expect.
While Images is a fairly consistent affair, it stands up better as a singles-and-filler collection than as a coherent album. The strongest tracks (“The Bird is on Fire,” “Antibodies”), those that most effectively mine the darkness-meets-disco formula, favor concise hooks and tight song construction over extended grooves, yet the album as a whole threatens to meander off course, padding its 71-minute running time with inoffensive but incongruous lighter fare (“You of the Broken Hands,” “The Soundtrack of Your Fears.”) While the material is never weak, the stylistic variation leaves one wondering what the band is really all about; by trying to be all things at once, they somewhat undercut the potency of what might otherwise become a signature sound.
If there’s a weak link to Poni Hoax, it’s singer Ker. While his English pronunciation is impeccable, he is never a convincing frontman. His reliance on imitation is all-too-obvious, yet precisely who he’s imitating seems to change from track to track. Rather than delivering the self-confident swagger of his models, his contrived delivery shows too many signs of effort and fails to deliver the attitude that he seems to be aiming for. Granted, the strength of the music here mitigates the weakness of the vocals, but one can imagine the band improving considerably with a different frontman.
On the other hand, Ker’s overreaching may provide a key to understanding the shortcomings of Images of Sigrid more broadly. While it’s an impressively executed album by a band that clearly has the capability to generate compelling material from a relatively simple formula, it often seems that Poni Hoax aren’t satisfied with their own strengths, but rather feel compelled to constantly force themselves into less comfortable territory. This may be laudable in theory, but doesn’t necessarily work out in practice.