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Ponytail - Do Whatever You Want All the Time

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Artist: Ponytail

Album: Do Whatever You Want All the Time

Label: We Are Free

Review date: Apr. 13, 2011

My first impressions of Ponytail were formed while seeing the Baltimore band live. It was at the old Knitting Factory main space on Leonard Street in New York. I didn’t know what to expect, really, aside from the fact that I’d seen the name on a number of recent DIY bills in Brooklyn. What I heard: a squall of guitars, a relentless frenetic energy, and vocalist Willy Siegel hopping across the stage with a blissful grin across her face, coming dangerously close kicking in the faces of anyone in the front row. Needless to say, I picked up Ice Cream Spiritual before departing for the night.

Now a few years later, we’ve arrived at Do Whatever You Want All the Time. Opener “Easy Peasy” suggests a distillation of Spiritual‘s strengths: it hurtles forward, Dustin Wong’s guitar at once blistering and (at odd moments) pointing toward bliss. Siegel seems to be singing the occasional actual word; her approach is much more based around sounds, breaking language down into glottal elements and yet managing to convey emotion just fine. (If you’re a fan of the long-gone Scottish art-punk band Life Without Buildings, it’s safe to say that you’ll find a lot to like in Ponytail’s sound.)

But even while Ponytail’s urgency and fondness for a good clamoring put them somewhere in the punk camp, its members’ ties to the avant-garde aren’t limited to Siegel’s explorations in language. (Or, for that matter, for the group’s willingness to deconstruct and rethink traditional notions of gender.) “Beyondersville/Flight of Fancy” is structured around strange, compelling guitar melodies and manipulated vocals; as the song builds up steam, it suggests some alternate universe where Stereolab took political cues from anarchism and punk rock.

All four members of the group are given their moments to shine here. “AwayWay” ushers the album toward its conclusion through a series of evolving rhythmic workouts, while the brooding, textured “Honey Touches” finds the quartet equally comfortable in brooding moments. Cathartic moments pop up throughout. Sometimes it’s through accelerating the tempo; at others, it’s through Siegel’s vocals abruptly becoming clear, or the addition of a second voice to the mix.

For all of the willingness to challenge the listener, there’s not question that Ponytail is also a profoundly listenable band, capable of playing furiously and ecstatically, fond of anthems and changeup tempos. The closure and catharsis don’t always come via the expected routes, but they’re no less satisfying when they do. This is punk rock that’s both intellectually challenging and young at heart.

By Tobias Carroll

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