It’s conspicuous that I haven’t properly reviewed any work by San Francisco based producer Vylet Pony. I’ve touched upon her output in the past, and last year’s Glitter was my pick for best album of 2018. But a deeper dive into her work is long overdue.
January 2019 provided a perfect opportunity, in the shape of Homeward. Weirdly, as much as I enjoyed that album, I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. I have to be honest about why: the prospect of discussing it felt daunting to me.
This wasn’t a condemnation of its quality. It’s a great listen. It was because of the wider context. As a concept album, Homeward is a continuation of the Starship Ponyville story arc. Without prior experience of the rest of the series, I wasn’t confident that I could properly get to grips with it. And as the months passed by, I thought it wise to just move on.
Happily, another opportunity arrived in June. While Love Letters: Colourless is another concept album, it’s one that I feel more confident about discussing.
Colourless is related to an earlier work, 2016’s Love Letters. However, it carries a more self-contained narrative. And naturally, this story is told through the prism of the fandom of which Vylet is a notable member, that of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
It’s still surprising to me how invested I am in Vylet’s work, despite not being part of this fandom myself. But Vylet broke this down quite nicely in an interview she did with us last December:
My goal has always been to make music that everyone can listen to. For people who are fans of MLP, are furries, or whatever, my music is to be direct and correlate with what my interests are along with theirs – but for people who are just listeners alone, the artwork, inspiration, and branding I go for is just part of the aesthetic I’d like to think.
I reflected on this quote a lot while listening to Colourless. Especially the part about aesthetics. One reason why I wanted to talk about this album is that it perfectly distils why Vylet’s usage of MLP characters and settings enhance, rather than detract from what she’s trying to do.
Look at this picture:
This is Rainbow Dash, the main protagonist of Colourless. Given her design, and the fact she’s from a cartoon called Friendship is Magic, you’d be forgiven for expecting Colourless to be light-hearted and fun.
But while friendship may be magic, Colourless can be DARK. As the title suggests this is a love story, but it’s a seriously intense exploration of love at its messiest and most shattering. Regret, longing, obsession, desperation, rage, sex…these are just some of the themes Vylet is striking upon here.
This is a hell of a lot to put onto My Little Pony. And given how long Vylet has been basing her work upon it, she’s always been conscious of this. ‘A lot of adult fans of the show will try and justify their interest in it one way or another, but it’s really just a kid’s show at face value – I can’t tell you any different.’
That being said, it being a kid’s show doesn’t ‘Detract from the rich nature of it.’ And let’s be fair about this, we all know how ridiculous it is to look down on stories aimed at children. They’re equally capable of exploring weighty themes as adult ones. Sometimes they’re even better at it.
Recently, Vylet and I were discussing the background of Colourless on Twitter. At one point she remarked:
What the FiM universe has to offer is that the whole fantasy aspect and existence of magic goes to amplify the negative emotions experienced. Because in a world where you have magic at your disposal, to still have problems and still have these tragedies shows that it’s still up to the individual to really deal with them. In a world of magic and unicorns and there *still* to be troubles is one of the big things with making it more mature.
The impact of what Dash is going through, what we can all go through, is heightened because someone in her universe should be able to brush it off. To wish it away. But she can’t, so we certainly can’t. Colourless forces us to face a stark reality: there is nowhere we can hide from the worst of what we can feel.
Vylet is known for working with multiple genres. Across 20 tracks, Colourless features elegant piano pieces (“Letters She Wrote Me”), trap funk (“Identity”), chill wave (“Hibernation”) and even an upbeat sex jam (“Pheromone”). However, what makes Colourless so great isn’t solely due to its stylistic diversity or its production.
Like Homeward, Colourless can simply be enjoyed as a collection of songs. But the magic of Colourless comes down to performance and its approach to storytelling.
The plot of Colourless is relatively simple. Dash previously received a series of letters from another character, Rarity. After months of hesitation, she’s now reading them. Going through them is bittersweet, at times downright painful, because Rarity is no longer around and the bonds between Dash and the rest of the FiM crew have degenerated.
The emotional impacts are conveyed perfectly through the tunes. But listeners are encouraged to dig deeper. Further insights and details can found in Rainbow Dash’s Diary.
This is part of a digital booklet which is included with purchases of the album. Links to the diary entries themselves can be found elsewhere however. These diary entries provide exposition. They also augment the tone and impact of each song, and vice versa. They also reveal slants and contradictions in Dash’s perspective.
“Pheromone” is a great example of the dynamic between song and entry. It provides some slick funk and suggestive imagery. ‘Well leave your shoes, right by the door babe. When pheromone’s control you.’ ‘You would never understand, that it’s been so long since we behaved. So why start now?’
The accompanying diary entry notes that Dash has hit the town and met someone else. Rarity isn’t Dash’s only hope for romance (or at least sex). The track has a fun vibe to it, so it’s all pretty positive right?
Not quite. “Pheromone” nods towards Rarity: ‘I can’t stop thinking about you. From the day you left babe.’ But overall things are looking up. Then we open the diary:
i had met with somepony last night. didn’t know their name. didn’t know anything about them really. just wanted to see what it felt like to do that sort of thing, you know? whatever happened happened, and then they were gone the next day. i’m still left feeling unfulfilled at all. honestly i feel really empty. maybe it’s not my thing. she was nice i guess. we had a nice dinner, a nice time. i’ll probably never see her again. wonder what rarity is up to.
(april 18, 2021)
The song gives little indications of Dash’s emptiness. But the contrast between the musical and textual versions of “Pheromone” is potent. Another dimension has been created. Greater than the sum of its parts.
The best track on Colourless is “At The End of the Rainbow.” Besides its quality, it’s also startlingly acidic. Dash is pissed. With her situation, with Rarity, with the rest of the FiM cast. The diary entry is pretty blunt: ‘I’m beginning to resent a lot of those ‘friends’ who have not really been there at all. fuck them. fuck everything. maybe they don’t deserve me.’
The track itself is more subtle. The beat is more mellow, the vocals are smoky, and the production is driven by Vylet’s experimentation with various distortion techniques. Interestingly, the restraint in her performance actually creates a sustained atmosphere of contempt which eclipses the diary entry.
‘And looking at the lies you’ve told yourself. You’re fucking up your chances to redeem yourself.’ This sentiment could apply to Rarity, their friends and Dash herself. She does make specific references to her issues with Rarity, but the most interesting details call back to the last sentence in the entry.
Dash’s ego isn’t entirely broken. In fact, she borders on arrogant here. ‘I’m the one at the end of the rainbow. And still you’re searching for gold.’ This self-regard is an interesting piece of characterisation. Dash doesn’t feel entirely worthless, at least not all of the time. In fact, she holds a disdain for self-pity, which Vylet expresses with a withering tone: ‘You say woe is me. Woe is me you say.’
In FiM, the main characters possess one of the “Elements of Harmony.” Obviously, there’s a substantial amount of lore revolving around them. Dash carries the element of loyalty. It’s an admirable quality to possess, but in the context of Colourless, Vylet explores the darker side of it.
Dash remains loyal to her loved ones, but she expresses her resentment during “…Rainbow.” What was once a treasured attribute, is now a shackle. She cannot let go, despite her anguish and confusion. Or as a line from “Diaries I Kept” puts it, ‘The element of loyalty breaks down into a rut.’
There is so, so much more to explore when it comes to Colourless. The depth and breadth of references to FiM. The layers and textures of characterisation and narrative. The imagination, skill and conceptual awareness which went into the project as a whole.
This review could extend to novel length. But I’m legitimately worried about spoilers and, ultimately, you owe it to yourself to experience Colourless on your own terms. It’s worth checking out the diary, but again, it’s recommended, not entirely necessary.
In case you can’t tell, I’m enthusiastic about the work of Vylet Pony. Alongside the output of Ada Rook, her music represents the standard against which everything else I review is measured. If you’re still unsure about starting with her conceptual work, then it may be worth following my example. Start with Glitter, then work you way outwards. But for the love of God, just start.
You can find Vylet Pony here: