Monday, December 7, 2009
#25. '(insert random vocal noises here)'
Ponytail "Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From an Angel)"
The last time we were talking about an instrumental single on this list, the meat of my review was discussing the powers of repetition. I can't take that approach here. Ponytail don't seem to thrive on repetition the same way that a lot of modern (mostly) instrumental band so. Sure they'll find a groove and play it out for a couple of minutes, but soon enough they've found a tangent they want to go off and explore, which leads to another tangent until the songs - loosely defined as they are, you could make an argument that their last album Ice Cream Spiritual was one amorphous longform composition split into 7 tracks - end up bearing little resemblance to the way they started. It's the sort of style that can be frustrating at times, but every so often the freewheeling nature of the compositions hits that perfect balance, where the tangents seem like a logical extension of whatever came before, where the lack of actual segues between the sections becomes charming. They've only done it once of course, but luckily for me they chose to release it as a single so I could give it the appropriate amounts of love in this project.
Essentially, "Celebrate the Body Electric" is all you need to hear to understand why people love or hate Ponytail, and as an illustration of why I fall into the former camp (with reservations) it does its job pretty damn well. If you haven't heard it yet, imagine if Melt-Banana collaborated with Animal Collective and the former's ADD and instrumental dexterity was grafted onto the latter's warped sense of what exactly is meant by pop music. If that sounds appealing you're in the right place here, if it sounds unbearable in every possible sense of the word...well just wait for tomorrow's entry I guess. Depending on my mood I can fall on either side of the fence to be completely honest, but "Celebrate the Body Electric" manages to work for me in most situations. I realize that its' not for everyone, anything with the description above is all but guaranteed to have a very limited audience, but on both a compositional and an emotional level it speaks to me in a way that few tracks form any of their peers and influences can. I can't explain why it just does.
I could just describe the many changes and movements the song goes through in its 7 minutes, but honestly, that's a bit of a pointless excuse for a review all told. I can say that unlike the rest of Ice Cream Spiritual those changes seem to be dictated by more than just whims. There's a palpable sense of composition to the movements, the way that the various energetic sections are taken to their breaking point before a calmer movement starts up without much awkwardness, or how the contributions of Molly Siegel, who seriously gives Melt-Banana's Yako a run for her money in terms of vocalists that might annoy the fuck out of me if the music under tehm weren't so good, seem like more than just random ululations that have nothing to do with the song. I mean, that huge group vocal release at the end of the song wouldn't be as euphoric as that if there wasn't a proper sort of build up to it, and the various guitar leads all seem to be somewhat thematically related to my untrained ear. It feels like a song, not an aggregation of various parts that kinda gel but not quite but an actual fully made song. And that song is full of moments that put any other band that tries this sort of thing to shame; I'm talking about the mid song breakdown, Dustin Wong's climatic ending solo just before the group vocal, the interplay between Wong and Ken Seeno about 3 minutes in. Moments that add up to make one of the most refreshingly exciting songs of the decade, no matter how frustrating the rest of the band's output is.