At some point, cocaine became normalized. There used to be a time when the idea, “Weed is one thing, but coke?” meant something. Now, jokes about coke have become commonplace. The erratic behavior of a certified coke-head have been condoned. And a national space agency has given “getting high” a new meaning. Twice. Certainly the erratic and clipped pace of contemporary pop culture matches the drug’s effects. In music the high of coke rides tandem to the speed of dance and the energy of pop. However, there are the occasional outliers finding stimulation from other sources.
The joy of Ponytail’s first two records was this drug-free quality. The songs burst like a mouthful of Pop Rocks followed by a chaser of Coca-Cola. The group refined the ingenuous fun of Shonen Knife with a little Suzuki method polish. Its debut, Kamehameha, experimented with this sucrose cocktail; the follow-up, Ice Cream Spiritual, perfected it. The trade-off of that sugar-and-brain combination is a massive crash. So, the band took a nap.
The nap is clearly over on the band’s “comeback” LP. The title Do Whatever You Want All The Time summarizes the band’s rejuvenated kid-in-a-candy-shop enthusiasm. For the most part the album keeps up with the clip of its two predecessors. The one notable change is the album’s noticeable pauses where both the musicians and the listener can catch their breath.
“Easy Peasy” opens the album with a pretty wash of synths before restoring the familiar, boundless energy. The band quickly introduces its greater control over dynamics by lightly skipping through “Flabbermouse.” The pace hardly lets up, but the comparative space in the song is liberating at least until the song careens out of control.
For fans of Ponytail’s not-so-secret weapon Molly Siegal, rest assured, she’s still cooing, yelping and whooping it up. “AwayWay” features the best interplay between the band’s signature elements: Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno’s skronky guitar antics; Jeremy Hyman’s precision drumming; and Siegal’s ejaculations. A frenetic opening gradually relaxes into a gently looping progression. Album closer “Music Tunes” is a change of pace with its near Gamelan motif that patiently morphs into a percussive clatter. These quieter moments are remarkable as they retain the primal joy of the band at its most spastic — minus the excessive energy.
Ponytail fans will surely enjoy this relatively formed incarnation of the band’s energy. Non-fans can appreciate the pure joys of a band making noise free of the grip of self-doubt or other inhibitors. And while the appreciation may be ephemeral, it’s a much-needed one. Because if I hear another joke about cocaine being a hell of a…