A title that could double as the ethos of the band behind it, Do Whatever You Want All the Time also represents growth for Ponytail, whose music up to now has resembled abstract expressionist painting: all kinds of things thrown up against a wall. Far more controlled and melodic than the sustained tantrum of Ice Cream Spiritual, this album deepens the grab-bag aesthetic by taking more time to carve niches in the band’s prickly noise textures.
The Baltimore group has been compared to Deerhoof, fellow weirdoes who turn music into wildly expressive play. But this is a shallow comparison, based more on small incidental similarities than any real resemblance. Both employ guitars that run up and down scales two steps at a time, and both have faux-naif female leads spouting gibberish, but where Deerhoof is in a running battle between the wide-eyed sincerity of their lyrics and their blisteringly strange bent of the music, Ponytail uses nonsense lyrics as a companion to songs that strive to sound silly and playful.
With titles like “Easy Peasy,” “Flabbermouse,” and “Beyondersville/Flight of Fance,” the group can often seem too obsessed with evoking a Teletubbies-level cartoon world, but the music is expressively vibrant and weird enough that this becomes a minor quibble. The textural zones they carve out are never disturbing or harsh, but they’re not entirely soft or cute either, hedging on a foundation of ambient sounds that always seem poised to explode into disorder. “Beyondersville” spends most of its length poised at this juncture, employing audibly disintegrating elements as the song builds, flaking away into nothing without reaching any real noisy peak.
While admirably restrained and fitfully beautiful, tracks like this seem possessed of far less ideas than the whizz-bang explosion of Pontytail’s last album. Songs like “AwayWay” may push too far with their confluence of beyond-basic lyrics and cheery spunk, and there are times when all this silliness makes one yearn for a frontwoman capable of more than baby sounds. Yet, for the most part, Do Whatever You Want All the Time is a candy-colored descent into madness, one which tames the wildness of the group’s previous efforts in the interest of a far more mature style.