Time to make a confession. Before agreeing to review this Ponytail album I had never heard a single note of their music. After minimal research I discovered that it’s their third release and that they’re often compared to Deerhoof. Seeing as I don’t much like Deerhoof this provided me with no real context, so I decided to let the music speak for itself. I gave it a few spins trying not to leap to any conclusions, then gave it a few more spins trying desperately to leap to some kind of conclusion. I couldn’t honestly say I disliked it, the music being rather pleasant at times, but I also couldn’t really say that I liked it. It exists as accomplished, slightly off-kilter, indie rock and that’s about it. At times I found myself nodding my head and getting caught up in the energy and wondering if the album will grow on me, but it has a pristine surface that resists emotional connection while providing few unconventional moments outside of the yelping, barely discernable vocals.
The problem, I think, is that the music sounds like well-made computer-generated songs designed to provide aural stimulation while staring at some kind of never-ending optical illusion screensaver. There are times when it definitely exudes a certain joy, and the overflowing guitar lines can sound like effervescent bursts of sunshine, but it resists replicating, or even indicating, absolute joyousness. It feels controlled and, as such, dulls what at times threatens to explode. The entire album would probably play out very well as the soundtrack to some cartoon feature film about a cute but blundering girl who wakes up on her 12th birthday to discover that she can both fly and converse with woodland creatures. In other words, it would work better if some kind of frenzied visuals were on hand to provide an emotional anchor for the music to rest in. As it is, it all seems to float free of any real definition without engaging the listener enough to care once the initial glow has worn off.
I could break it down into song descriptions, perhaps mentioning that ‘AwayWay’ has more than a hint of Afro-pop, but the songs themselves all come across as one long extended piece. Opener ‘Easy Peasy’ is as good/bad as anything else and should give you fair warning in terms of what you’re in for. I have a fairly high tolerance for idiosyncratic vocal traits so the singing suits me fine and, in fact, gives the album the closest thing to an element of humanity but, like all else, it isn’t quite enough. No matter how many times I listen, the album arrives, stays for a while, and departs without leaving much of an impression. Ponytail seem to fulfill a certain demand in American indie-rock for experimental music that isn’t actually too experimental and, as such, exist with a big enough audience to get by while never threatening to go mainstream. Both band and audience will be satisfied with this outcome but, if I had to make a bet, I’d wager that the music isn’t appreciated much beyond the lifespan of the group themselves. Think of them as a poppier U.S. Maple.
(This review originally appeared on Collapse Board)