A particular fascination of mine is the ancient Catholic practice of preserving saints' bones in stunningly intricate boxes of metallic finery and lush upholsteries. I have seen hundreds of stinky bones in small castles that if melted down for gold could feed a thousand, but it's hard to tell which one is more beautiful and moving: the reality of the human who was once alive, or the glittered sarcophagus in which the remaining humans housed it.
I had the same dilemma while listening to Heidi Lynne Gluck's Pony Show, the Kansas City singer's second release on Lotuspool Records. Gorgeously sung and well-played, it hides a dark secret.
On the surface, technical and musical proficiency make the record a series of well-executed songs. Mellow piano, guitar, strings and drums – all played by Gluck – back her strong voice. Gluck also wrote and produced the record, a testament to her multi-dimensional talent.
Clearly influenced by the era of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, Gluck creates upbeat and plucky melodies, set to a pace that remains steadily mid-tempo, betraying little raw emotion. This provides the stable base Gluck needs for her voice, so richly-toned and smooth that if you neglect to listen to what she's actually saying, you're missing the point. Close listening to the lyrics reveal Pony Show to be a robust love letter to life, loss and grief written in spindly calligraphy.
Her love of King comes through in “I Like 'Em Cruel,” a crooning admission of masochism. Cheery piano provides a cunning juxtaposition as Gluck sings “I've been waiting all of my life/for somebody just like you/I guess you could say/ I like 'em cruel.” It's the perfect song for just after a breakup, but listening any longer will entice you into a string of bad decisions.
Gluck's exploration into her inner macabre flows through the veins of this record. A slow burn marinades “The Universe Had Split” and she sears the words, “Sometimes every move we make/and every breath we take/feels like suicide.” She plays with “suicide” throughout the song, trilling grace note scales so lovely it's easy to forget the word she's singing.
The album’s most haunting song is “Wolf,” in which Gluck harmonizes with herself over simple piano and string accompaniment. That sound is striking, but what's most captivating is the rich imagery of the lyrics – this feels less like a song and more like prose poetry set to music. “I dream in whiskey, you dream in wine/I deal in words, and I know they're stunted.” It’s like a fable, with Gluck calling for an “attack” by a Wolf this very evening; she's bent on proving to her potential lover that she will “mess” their “lipstick with a crooked fuck” and bring nothing but doom.
Pony Show is a beautifully made reliquary which houses those feelings we attribute to being human. Gluck has established herself as a medium for that which haunts us.
Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a Kansas City freelance writer, artist and producer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.