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Ponytail
Do Whatever You Want All the Time Michael Dix , April 26th, 2011 05:01

Last summer, following a two-year victory lap in honour of their excellent second album Ice Cream Spiritual, Baltimore’s Ponytail announced that they were going their separate ways. Admittedly not as hysteria-inducing as John leaving the Beatles (or indeed Robbie rejoining Take That), it was still pretty sad news for many, a bitter pill sugared only by the fact that three of the quartet already had other musical projects lined up: drummer Jeremy Hyman was joining the Boredoms’ ever-expanding percussive army, whilst guitarists Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno both had solo albums planned. Then, in February, a most welcome surprise: like a Hollywood heist crew unable to resist the temptation of one last job, the band revealed they had a final, pre-split full-length recorded and ready for release.

And so here it is, the last stand of the Ponytail gang: Do Whatever You Want All The Time, its mantra-like title summing up the quartet's carefree, try-anything approach to songwriting. That said, the seven tracks that make up this impressive swansong are more composed, more painstakingly structured than either of its predecessors, although don't for a second think that means the band have calmed down. All the elements that made Ice Cream Spiritual such a dazzling document – Seeno and Wong’s duelling guitars, Hyman’s powerhouse drumming, Molly Siegel’s... unique vocals – are still present and correct, but instead of throwing a couple of sloppy riffs against a wall of jack-hammer beats in the hope that something sticks, every note here is planned with the precision of a classical concerto.

Those familiar with Dustin Wong's excellent 2010 double-LP Infinite Love (and if you're not, you really should be) will recognise reflections of the guitarist's solo work in Do Whatever You Want. That album saw Wong utilising a vast array of pedals and samplers like a one-man orchestra, layering multiple looped riffs together into gushing torrents of blissful neon noise; here Ken Seeno ably provides the counterpoint, the pair’s guitar lines weaving intricate tapestries of chunky, staccato low-end notes and twisting, soaring solos. The interplay between Wong and Seeno has always been the highlight of Ponytail’s music, but on Do Whatever You Want it is just sublime; the tone is cleaner, less blown-out than on Ice Cream Spiritual, and although it lacks that record’s air of punk-rock abandon the heights it reaches are even more dizzying.

Of course, there is more to Ponytail than their guitar chops. Jeremy Hyman's drums are an equally important part of the overall sound, and he negotiates the album’s myriad mathematical twists and turns with impressive ease; from trance-like tribal rhythms to jazzy fills to pounding rock to rave-ready break-beats, Hyman never misses a beat. Rounding out the quartet is Molly Siegel, the unmistakable voice of Ponytail. Still discarding the notion of actual singing in favour of gibbering, squeaking and hollering, her presence here is less distracting than usual; lower in the mix and sticking closer to the main melody lines, Siegel’s role on Do Whatever You Want is more cheerleader than vocalist, letting the flow of the music steer her trademark babble-speak rather than the other way around.

While you can't fault a band for going out on a high, Do Whatever You Want suggests Ponytail's decision to call it quits might be a little premature. Like - for example - Hymans's Japanese buddies the Boredoms, the group seem to be at a point where they are happily settled into their own instantly recognisable sound, yet still compelled to push at its boundaries; if they were to carry on, and keep making evolutionary leaps as significant as this album's ambient-electronic centrepiece ‘Beyondersville/ Flight Of Fancy’, it isn't hard to imagine Ponytail enjoying the same kind of cult appeal and career longevity. For now, however, Siegel, Hyman, Seeno and Wong - for most likely the first and only time - are following more conventional advice: leave them wanting more. I, for one, can't wait for the reunion.

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