By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The Cult of Ray
Jonny Polonsky, a 22-year-old lo-fi do-it-yourselfer "discovered" by ex-Pixie and idol Frank Black, belongs to that clique of post-indie rockers for whom there exists no genre boundaries and no qualifications of "good" or "bad." The home-studio fetishist who wasn't content to play musical jukebox to an audience of one comes off as a sponge, soaking up everything around him without even questioning the merit of the sounds that surround him. There is no pop music too slight or inadequate for Polonsky, nothing that doesn't influence the way he writes, sings, or breathes.
Polonsky, like Black, fabricates music the way Quentin Tarantino fashions his films: The cliches compose the language upon which Polonsky and Black were schooled as young boys obsessed with their hi-fis, but the two men don't merely speak that language, they scream it. In his self-penned label bio, Polonsky writes of his obsessions as a 6-year-old with the Beatles, of discovering "Top-40 pop music through MTV," and of playing the Monkees' TV theme song and the latest Duran Duran song on his ukulele.
Polonsky--who looks like Jonathan Richman's his bar mitzvah pictures, sounds like Chris Mars or Steven Tyler, and writes like Ray Davies--infuses his pop songs not with irony, but with sincerity. Polonsky writes silly love songs ("When I love my lovely love/Everything is fine") because he's supposed to, because it is what he learned in that classroom called FM radio. He's the C-plus student who turns in A-minus papers based entirely upon the research of others, regurgitating the sound of the '60s ("Evil Scurvy Love"=Beatles), filtering it through the '70s ("In My Mind"=ELO), then drenching it in the '80s ("Gone Away"=Pixies).
Speaking of the Pixies, the former Black Francis still comes to "punk" through the pop song, his infatuation with and affection for the form still running deep no matter how he tries to convince otherwise. The space-rock noise now serves less of a purpose, there only to bury the melodies instead of intensify them, yet The Cult of Ray is somehow more concise than Black's first two solo records. "I Don't Want to Hurt You (Every Single Time)" sticks out from the fuck-and-run music around it, an honest-to-God love song ("I wish you could be what's her name/And I could be King Kong") surrounded by pogo-punk instrumentals and more songs about UFOs, space aliens, and words that rhyme with "Morocco" and "taco."