It’s not difficult to find a band whose sole desire in performing is to energize a crowd through vivacious performance. Countless cookie cutter acts eschew any higher intellectual purpose so they can concentrate solely on being loud, frantic and fun. Most fail at this task, whether from a failure to commit wholly to this stripped down attack or a lack of true musical chops to keep things lively over the course of an entire album/performance. Ponytail, on the other hand, actually has gifted musicians. Instead of showcasing technical fretwork, dueling finesse riffs or assaulting posit-prog exercises above any set-in-stone musical formulas, they just play the hell out of whatever is at their disposal. If they get tired of a certain rhythm, they just strike it from their memory and try again with something else.
It might sound now that their performance is solely composed of anarchic chaos, but while there may be no discernible logic to the progression, there is no doubt a lot of technical decisions being made here. Spitfire heroics don’t come by accident; they just make it seem so. When they bend (or simply break) the rhythms to their whim, what looks from a distance like a kick-start out of boredom actually feels like a conscious and calculated release of pressure, one that benefits them enormously in keeping their frenzied rattle effervescent instead of numbing.
The only time the album slows down long enough for the listener to take a breath is during the middle stretch of “Celebrate the Body Electric,” which, at seven minutes, would have been an exhausting experience without it, to say the least. There’s also a feedback drone that opens “Late for School,” but even that is dominated by looping, agro-weird vocal patterns twisting above and below the rising fog. As for the other brief ambience-driven passages that pop up now and again, it’s tough to achieve a moment of clarity when you’re still hypnotized.
This is essentially hook-less music, but “angular” doesn’t even begin to define their tireless and inventive workouts. Think you have a vague notion where one of their songs is going? I wouldn’t bet on it. The directions they take surprised me even on a third listen. I can only suspect that a fan who has spun Ice Cream Spiritual a hundred times won’t be able to stomp or chant along at a live performance since every note could be rewritten a dozen times over and still inherently be the same song. Since any theme or meaning other than “kick the sh!t out of it” is entirely disposable here, it’s hard enough to make out one song from the other. It’s just eight chunky tracks that reverberate in the gut long after it closes.
Guitarists Ken Seeno and Dustin Wong know how to both devour the same cadence and counter each other like battling warriors. Their technique would sound as much at home in a noise rock outfit as it would in Robert Fripp’s cellar. But there’s enough technical precision to make them sound crisper and more controlled than any mess-and-mush company and just enough unpredictable excitement to squash away all of prog’s inescapable pretension. Drummer Jeremy Hyman is no slouch himself, crashing at a machine gun pace over squealing guitars and a maniacal laugh at the start of “G Shock,” and then measuring his pace while beginning “Small Wevs” with martial rat-a-tats and cymbal flourishes. The three of them working in tandem makes for one of the most intriguing sound collectives hammering it out today.
Ice Cream Spiritual‘s three-piece musical agitation is all seemingly chaotic ecstasy for “singer” Molly Siegel to chirp, wail, grunt and shriek against. If Siegel says more than five intelligible words during the course of these eight songs, I missed them (though I did catch the voice of one of her male partners delivering the title of “Late to School”). But trying to make a logical statement against the barrage of traditional instruments played nontraditionally would either be an outright failure or a bundle of useless rapturous declarations: hey, all right, come on, yay, whee! I caught a “yeah” and a couple of “baby”s, but if she had done that again and again, it would have become tiresome. I prefer the nonsense. It describes the sort of intoxicating enthusiasm so relentless that crystalline thought cannot penetrate the buzzing brain in order to craft a proper syllable.
Needless to say, Ice Cream Spiritual won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (or favorite flavor of Baskin Robbins?). Looking for a storyteller? Poetic metaphors? A love song? A political statement? Not here. This is solely for those looking to take a half hour out of their busy days and just froth frenetically. They’re already well-known for their fever-pitch live shows, and they’ve captured that infectious spirit on this recording. I can’t imagine these guys (and gal) going into a studio to “lay down some tracks.” They could only possibly storm in, kick out anyone not on a pixie-stick rush, grab their instruments and hammer away for a few hours until their bodies could take no more, and then give the rooms the sort of thrashing that would make Keith Moon blush, all while grinning and giggling uncontrollably. And there’s no way to end this review other than to quote Siegel: eeh (squeaking yelp) nooh (throat noise) dae ri hul (agitated sigh) bria voe aac (unintelligible noise) zee! Indeed, Ms. Siegel.
Er, should I have added a [sic]?
"Ice Cream Spiritual" is on sale June 17, 2008 from We Are Free.