Ponytail – Do Whatever You Want All the Time

Do Whatever You Want All the Time has led me to question what I want from a Ponytail album. More to the point, it may cause Ponytail to exclaim, “What do you want from us?!” It’s the art-noise quartet’s most listenable disc, and the first not to wear out its welcome before the finish. Yet in hitting those marks they’ve left some other itches unscratched.

Ponytail still sounds like a jammier version of Deerhoof, but they’ve made plenty of other adjustments. Do Whatever is a brighter, more whimsical album, in contrast to the spastic churn of predecessors Kamehameha and Ice Cream Spiritual. They’ve reintroduced a few squelchy synth sounds from their early days, complementing Dustin Wong’s and Ken Seeno’s dual guitar scrabble. Vocalist Molly Siegel has begun sprinkling some intelligible language amid her free-association wails – mostly repeated exclamations like “What? What?” and “Always on my mind/ Running out of time.” Perhaps it’s her clipped phrasings that are behind Ponytail’s sudden resemblance to a Japanese experimental pop band, but there are other connections – the Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye provided the trippy cover art, Eye contributed to Wong’s 2010 solo turn, and drummer Jeremy Hyman recently manned the kit for the Boredoms. And like the Boredoms’ later work, Ponytail seems newly willing to invest in the slow build rather than flash cutting to the climax.

Do Whatever was recorded by J. Robbins, a mainstay of Ponytail’s Baltimore hometown scene, and it’s very much a studio creation. This more considered approach can yield benefits, like Siegel’s looped chant and the pulsing groove that propels “Tush.” But only “Honey Touches” delivers the sort of joyous, unbridled release that characterizes Ponytail’s best work, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the most recognizable track from their live set before the band shut down the engines indefinitely. Too much of the rest of the album is content to percolate and shimmer.

Despite the enchanting and challenging ride that Do Whatever offers, what I really want is the chance to hear Ponytail breathe fire into these tunes on stage – and there’s no sign of that on the horizon.

Do Whatever You Want All the Time
[We Are Free]