Ponytail Ice Cream Spiritual

[We Are Free; 2008]

Styles: epileptic pop music
Others: Deerhoof, Ecstatic Sunshine, Battles

Ice Cream Spiritual is a glorious aural finger painting for spastics. In composing it, Ponytail prove that they are incredibly talented ensembles who can mask their closely calculated arrangements and song structures with the appearance of being totally chaotic. And they’re often very pretty. Each of the eight songs on the band’s sophomore effort is full of the sort of life and vibrancy that most young bands couldn’t even begin to fathom, much less utilize with such poignancy. Add to this that Ice Cream Spiritual boasts a tighter tracklist and more refined production values than the band’s debut and the Baltimore foursome are left emerging at a serious peak.

Guitarists Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno play off each other in shredding duets, creating technical flourishes in the band’s more frenzied numbers and beautiful low-key passages when the occasion calls for them. Wong and Seeno’s guitar heroics, along with Jeremy Hyman’s pummeling drum kit, are accentuated by Molly Siegel’s off-kilter vocals. Siegel screeches, squeaks, and growls like a whole petting zoo of infernal animals, with the type of energy that makes Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki sound tired. Instead of being used to compose lyrics and melody (most of what Siegel hollers is gibberish) or as a "fourth instrument" adding vocal layers to the already tight compositions, Siegel’s sweet screams are more cathartic than anything. The band builds up so much pressure and energy over the course of just a couple bars that the songs run the risk of exploding all over the place if it weren’t for Siegel letting out some of the accumulated steam.

The songs here clock in longer runtimes than those of Ponytail’s early repertoire, and as such the band finds inventive ways to keep their fast and furious onslaughts fresh when stretched out. “Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From An Angel)” is a seven-minute epic that aptly highlights the band’s talent for both stimulant-fueled ecstasy and chiming ambience, and it features even a few decipherable lyrics(!) and an absolutely massive coda. Siegel’s maniacal laugh rushes in “G Shock,” a breakneck ditty that’s equal parts tropical-flavored seizure as The Legend of Zelda. The first two minutes of “Late For School” are composed of Animal Collective-level campfire spirituals, before busting up all over the place with the usual Ponytail fury. It’s a wise call for the band to break up its bursts of spitfire into more manageable chunks, because if it was all as killer, then Ice Cream Spiritual would run the risk of being exhausting, both for the band and its listeners.

As they stand with Ice Cream Spiritual, Ponytail have captured an ample document of their instrumental majesty without losing a lick of their live energy. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and especially not with the seeming ease in which Ponytail manage it. Perhaps most promising is the band’s willingness here to bend its signature sound, testing its limits without rendering it unrecognizable. Ponytail know what they’re good at, and their only interest seems to be in making it better. That and consuming mass amounts of sugar. After all, these songs don’t write themselves.

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