Ponytail, the four-piece from Baltimore, had a quite remarkable genesis. While at Maryland Institute of Art in 2005, the band came together thanks to a course assignment which, quite simply, asked the students to form a band. So form a band they did, with a spontaneity that doesn’t seem to have prevented them becoming the same kind of cohesive, tight unit as any other, “proper”, more conventionally forged outfit. And that’s before we even get to their quite extraordinary music.
Occasional echoes of other female-fronted acts can be heard: the anarchic skittering of The Slits; a slight debt to Altered Image‘s Claire Grogan or Bow Wow Wow‘s Annabella Lwin. In the main, though, Molly Siegel is a presence (and what a presence) all of her own. Her often wordless vocals jump, jerk and whoop their way through the music, somehow never shrill or overly abrasive. She’s positively perky on opener Easy Peasy – affable and as effortless as the title suggests. Her repeated cry of “Why?” on Flabbermouse is less a howl of existential angst, closer to the interested questioning of a curious toddler. In parts of Awayway the vocal pulls of what can only be described as a gentle howl. Only on the last track – Music Tunes – do you ever even get the slightest sense that the vocals come close to veering out of control.
The music is as distinctive as the singing. Many of the tracks (Easy Peasy, Honey Touches, Awayway, Tush) are flecked with afrobeat guitar, light and lilting. The pace is either an amiable gallop or, more often, gently rhythmic – to a point where (on Beyondersville/Flight Of Fancy and Flabbermouse) it could almost be described as desultory.
A myriad of interesting little effects – echoing synths, boings, rattles, flickers – are dotted through the album. Tush takes the sound of someone tapping on a mic to make sure it’s on, repeats it on a loop with a sampled snatch of vocal and then layers it up with a funky bassline to make one of the album’s best tracks. Music Tunes gradually speeds up its opening refrain to levels that leave you feeling dizzy and exhilarated.
This is music that just somehow works, in its execution, much better than you would think that it has any right to on paper. As with their previous album Ice Cream Spiritual, which won plaudits on its release in 2008, Do Whatever You Want All The Time undoubtedly also deserves praise. In Ponytail, that long-ago art project seems to have spawned the real thing – a band with an imprint and sound all of its own, with much of joy to share around.