Ponytail Do Whatever You Want All The Time

[We Are Free; 2011]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: art rock
Others: Marnie Stern, Lightning Bolt

Ponytail’s previous record, 2008’s Ice Cream Spiritual, was so busting with explosive urgency that it felt like an arrival. The ideas weren’t new — and it wasn’t the group’s first record — but it was executed with such breathless inspiration that it demanded a wide-eyed attention that it rightly received. Do Whatever You Want All The Time, by contrast, is tepid and uneventful, and proof that the band’s previous work didn’t succeed solely on its raucousness.

From “Easy Peasy” to “Honey Touches,” their old sound is pretty intact. It isn’t until “Beyondersville/ Flight of Fancy” that it becomes obvious how much Whatever You Want deviates from its predecessors. Almost like a Four Tet or Books track, it plugs away for over six minutes with chopped vocals, loops, faux-synth guitar squiggles, and hardly any drums (for a Ponytail song, anyway). It feels twice its length.

The band can’t be faulted for toning it down a bit, as I’m sure anybody enraptured by Ice Cream Spiritual recognized the potential for its constant onslaught to become tedious. But their attempts to expand on their sound here only disappoint. Later, “Tush” takes on something of an Afrobeat feel, threaded through with a repeated, twangy guitar line and synth flourishes over a lifeless drum foundation, ultimately coming off as a half-baked experiment. Closer “Music Tunes” spreads two already meager ideas way too thin over the course of close to seven minutes.

There are moments elsewhere on the record that maintain the frayed, caustic electricity we’re used to, but even these tracks somehow falter. One of “Honey Touches’” most rousing instrumental lines bears a surprising resemblance to The Strokes, with staccato guitar chords backing a straightforward arpeggio-based riff that modulates upward — it’s catchy, but in so mundane a way that it lacks what makes Ponytail’s music their own. “AwayWay” starts promisingly, but its momentum is aborted halfway through the track for a new direction that never finds its footing. Something that could be described as “unpredictability” on Ice Cream Spiritual here just manifests itself as “aimlessness.”

Still, Do Whatever You Want All The Time is a fair effort. I doubt it will stay with any of us for very long, but with some luck these growing pains will yield a new and even more arresting Ponytail.

Links: Ponytail - We Are Free

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