According to Wikipedia, Baltimore Art-rockers Ponytail have been inactive for almost four years. I knew it had been a while since the criminally underrated Do Whatever You Want All the Time , which is, of course, every Libertarian’s favorite album title ever, but I didn’t think it had been a full Olympics cycle.
I’m saddened to learn Ponytail doesn’t seem to be making new music, because their bizarre blend of math rock, burbling noises and surf grooves was entirely singular. Plus, for some reason (I’d guess an almost total lack of comprehensible lyrics) Ponytail never became particularly popular, and that’s a shame.
I think one of the best examples of the band’s appeal is “Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came from an Angel)” off of 2008’s Ice Cream Spiritual.
It has all the hallmarks of a Ponytail song, but has some moments that make it slightly more accessible than the usual fare.
Of course, this is thoroughly a Ponytail track, so there is a near cacophony of angular guitar noises, but eventually things settle into a tuneful, surf-rock groove. Triumphant, swelling group vocals and chanting of actual, identifiable words (Away we go now) join the mix. The almost conventional chanting and, “Oh’s,” give way to spastic gibbering, but occasionally walls of vocal noise or guitar blasts cede to focused tunes, and by the end of the seven-minute track, things are wonderfully in focus, as a two-minute guitar spectacle wraps up among a reprise of the group vocals.
“Celebrate the Body ….” lasts for seven minutes, and it essentially consists of three parts. Each part builds in intensity before finding an exhilarating rhythm, which in turn self-immolates and sets the stage for the next mellow portion of the song, which then begins to build. If atmospheric, energetic guitar jams are your thing, the tuneful stretches are mesmerizing. Stray strands from the oddball tapestry of sounds are woven into some great melodies.
If you’re interested in experimental rock, but think prog rock is for wusses, check this out.
At this point, Kurt Vile is a known entity. He has put out four albums with the help from his regular backing band, the Violators. Vile’s fifth studio album, b’lieve i’m going down, is slated for a late September release, and it’s unsurprisingly excellent.
However, b’lieve‘s content is mildly surprising in places–especially considering Vile’s recent trajectory.
His last release, 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze was a wonderful, warm slice of meandering dad rock, which is fitful, because several songs, including one of my favorites of ’13, meditated upon fatherhood.
However, Wakin… was slightly more shambolic and zonked out than usual, and as much as I enjoyed it, a concern that future endeavors might be too mellow crept into the back of my mind.
Vile doesn’t necessarily tear the roof off, but opening track, “Pretty Pimpin” is a fairly immediate alert things are going to be different. The song approaches something resembling a stomping rhythm and builds steam as it progresses. It’s also a funny depiction of difficulty identifying self, which is a departure from Wakin‘s gentle self-assurance. Oh, and, of course, there’s gratuitous use of the word pimping as an adjective.
The next track, “I’m an Outlaw” continues the change of pace. It’s a twangy country tune complete with banjo. Repetitious, rhythmic twang and a drum beat probably haven’t existed in as much harmony since Beck’s earliest glories.
“Dust Bunnies” is a laid-back lamentation from an aging rocker, who bemoans the mild nature of an increasingly domestic life, while still preferring playing homemaker to an early drug-fueled death. Fitting the retrospective rock theme, Vile seamlessly slips in a fun paradoxical reference to The Band and Sam Cooke “Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much about the shape I’m in.”
The next four songs are all much more typical of Vile, which is to say, they’re excellent, gentle folk-rock-country hybrids, but as the album winds down some wrinkles creep back in.
“Lost My Head There” and the instrumental”Bad Omens” both feature enjoyable interplay between piano, simmering guitar drone and spacy sound effects. “Kidding Around” actually ends with some electronic bloops.
However, album-closer “Wild Imagination” is a prototypical Kurt Vile song. It’s nearly six-minutes long, it’s very pleasant, and the lyrics are a bit goofy, while capturing a perfectly ordinary moment, “I’m looking at you, but it’s only a picture, so I take that back, but it ain’t really a picture, it’s just an image on a screen/you can imagine if I was though, right?/Just like I can imagine you can imagine it, can’t ya?/I got a wild imagination.”
b’lieve i’m goin down doesn’t totally deviate from what one expects from a Kurt Vile record, but it does explore some fun relatively novel terrain in addition to expertly traveling old ground. Plus, at this point, people expect Kurt Vile records to be pretty darn good, and b’lieve definitely doesn’t subvert that expectation.